Five black high schools closed in 1970 to integrate historically white schools

education historic

There are 15 public high schools in Greenville County today, but there were 20 at the start of the 1969-70 school year, the last in which segregation had an influence on the schools.

Because few students had taken advantage of the Choice of School plan that was part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, five high schools – Beck, Bryson, Lincoln, Sterling and Washington – had no white students, and the 15 traditionally white schools had few black students.

That changed on Feb. 17, 1970, when, in the midst of the academic year, the five historically black schools were closed and their students were assimilated without incident into the historically white schools.

Four of the historically black schools were built in the early 1950s, when the county consolidated smaller schools.

Lincoln High served the northern part of Greenville County, Sterling and Washington High served the city of Greenville, and Bryson served the lower part of the county. Beck High School was later added in1966 to serve the Fieldcrest and Nicholtown areas.


Originally called the Nicholtown Junior-Senior High School when it was built on 26 acres in the Green Forest Park area in 1963, Beck was built because Sterling High School was overcrowded and operating on double and triple sessions.

The Nicholtown area included students in Allen, Backer’s Chapel, Roosevelt, and Fieldcrest areas.

In 1964, the Board of Trustees of the Greenville County voted to change the name of the new school to Joseph E. Beck High, in honor of an African-American educator who had spent thirty years in Greenville County schools – 21 of them as principal of Sterling High.

Joseph E. Beck High School held its first classes in August of 1965.

Bryson High

Built near Highway 14 between Simpsonville and Fountain Inn, Bryson opened its doors on Sept. 3, 1954, with 567 students in grades 7-12. It was a consolidation of five small high schools in the Golden Strip (Simpsonvillle, Mauldin and Fountain Inn). The late Dr. A.M. Anderson served as principal during Bryson’s entire 15-year history.

Lincoln High

Lincoln, which opened in September 1955, included grades 1 through 12.

Sterling High

Sterling, which opened in 1896, had the most storied history among the former African American schools.

Founded by the Rev. D.M. Minus, a pastor at the John Wesley Church who was born of slave parents in 1848, the school was chartered as Greenville Academy with Minus as president.

One of its 1949 graduates, Dr. Thomas Kerns, later became the first black superintendent of the Greenville County School district, serving from 1989-1994. Glee Clubs, under the direction of Wilfred J. Walker, Sr. from 1935 to 1960, were especially strong and enabled many Sterling students to earn college scholarships.

The School Board voted to renovate Sterling High in early September of 1967, but a fire destroyed the building later in that month. For the rest of the school year and the next two, Sterling students shared academic quarters with Greenville Junior High on Wesfield Street. Today, only the gym remains of the historic school.

Washington High

Originally called “Happy Hearts” elementary and high school, the school was later officially named Washington Elementary and High.

It was the last of 17 school projects completed in 1961, replacing the old Brutontown School. It took in some students from Sterling High and some from nearby Lincoln High School.

In its brief existence, Washington High’s Falcons reached a pinnacle of athletic success in 1968, when its football team won the state 1A championship. Two players, Roy Kirksey and Willie Belton, later played at Maryland State University and in the NFL.