Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Violet Saylor remembers the grade school she started attending at 5 years old.
Alston Graded School was one of the first African American schools founded in Dorchester County, and opened in 1910. Saylor graduated from the school in 1954. She can recall the sizeable classrooms – with wooden floors and a potbelly stove to keep everybody warm.
In particular, Saylor remembers the auditorium in the school. For all the years she walked into that auditorium there was always a portrait of a man on the far side of the room. Saylor said the man in the picture wore a hat, and was handsome.
That man was the school’s namesake, Dr. J.H. Alston, and as far as Saylor knows that is the only photo of him that ever existed.
Saylor never knew the man but was born in the house next door to him. Alston had property in the Summerville area during the early 1900s and was a general practitioner who delivered babies.
“When these babies reached the age of 5 or 6 they didn’t have a school to go to,” Saylor said. “Schools were segregated then and we didn’t have a school for the African American community.”
Alston was born in Dorchester County in 1863, was married and had one daughter. He was Episcopalian.
Alston owned property on Cedar and 1st North Streets, and gave the property up to build a school, which turned into Alston Graded School. It included grades 1-11 until 1949, when 12th grade was added. Saylor’s class was the last to attend the school.
Alston High school was moved to Bryan Street from 1953-1970 and included grades 1-12, and closed after desegregation of county schools. Today Alston Middle School is located on Bryan Street.
In addition to founding the school, Alston was a founder of a hospital for African American patients who were not admitted to the county hospital.
Saylor said it was a green and yellow building with 12 rooms on the site where Wells Fargo bank is now located on N. Main Street in Summerville.
Saylor is now a historian with the Alston Heritage Foundation, which includes many of the school’s alumni. Saylor attributes the successes of Alston’s former students to Alston himself.
“He is history, and we want to keep that legacy because it can help the generations to come,” Saylor said. “His accomplishments were so great. I think by keeping this legacy alive it would help our children and grandchildren.”
The original school on Cedar and 1st North was demolished, and it is likely the picture of Alston in the auditorium was destroyed as well. The Alston Heritage Foundation unveiled a historic marker in 2000 on Cedar and 1st North Street to commemorate its founding history.
“I feel it’s important that our young people see what his accomplishments were,” Saylor said, “and that it will encourage them to think, ‘What am I doing?’
“The accomplishment of one person has impacted the lives of many.”