Hamer School was just a short distance from where I lived as a boy, and also it was near to the majority of its school population that is the Hamer Spinning Mill. While I am not sure of its exact beginning, from a conversation I had with the late Dixon Lee, a cousin, who stated that he was in the first grade when it opened and that would put it somewhere around the year 1917. Even before the school was established at this location, there was another Hamer School located behind the old “uptown” Hamer Post Office. Before this school was organized, there was a Hamer School near Kentyre Presbyterian Church and even before that, private tutors and clergymen served the needs of those in the community, at times for a modest fee or for available farm goods of value.
At that time c. 1917 there evidently was a school building boom in the county since there were several schools in the county built to the same general specifications. If you are interested in learning what the Hamer School looked like back then, take a short drive to the Oakland community near the North Carolina state line because that former school is similar to the one at Hamer.
Today that school is used as a Methodist Church; others have been demolished as was the Hamer School. Similar schools were located in Little Rock and in the Manning community. At one time there were about 30 school districts in the county, each with black and white grammar schools and in 2 cases, even schools for Native Americans in Latta and Leland Grove in the Carolina section of the county. In a few of the school districts back then, some communities even had their own high schools. Today, of course, there are presently only 3 school districts plus 2 Head Start campuses.
If you wish more information about the early schools check with the Main Dillon County Library and ask to see the study of the early county schools including photographs prepared by the writer for the Dillon County Board of Education.
The Hamer School I attended, later replaced by a newer facility, was of brick construction with no fire escapes and had 6 class rooms plus a second story auditorium. There were several “cloak” rooms often used to isolate ‘problem’ students and an unstairs stage area. Classrooms were built around a large center court area on the first floor. Two stairways led to the second floor. There were 3 entrances. The school was at a location known as the Five Forks. The locations’ three main roads were the now Old Hamer Road, Elkins Road and the Mount Calvary Road. The segregated school was just up the road from the Hamer Colored School and the Saint Matthew AME Church and only a short distance to US 301.
The first floor housed grades 1, 3&4, 5&6 and 7. The second grade classroom was on the second floor. The first grade room, perhaps with the largest enrollment was also the biggest room surrounded on two sides by tall shaded windows and had one entry door. The room was on the southwest corner of the first floor. Pot belied coal fired stoves provided necessary heat. The desks were often mounted to fixed slats. The typical desk’s seat could be nosily raised. Each desk, many with carved initials, had a storage place for books and, strangely enough, each had a hole for an ink bottle plus a pencil slot. A smell that is remembered was from the floors that had a regular application of oil to keep down the dust.
Another memory was the hand rung bell used by the principal for class movements. If you did not ride the bus, you walked to school rain or shine.
There were no car pools. Other than an occasional playground scuffle, there were hardly any disciplinary problems.
The first grade classroom was the home of the legendary teacher Miss Maggie McEachern a high school graduate with PhD teaching skills who taught little ones there for nearly 50 years, generation after generation. The room had blackboards on two of the classroom walls and above the boards, charts showing the proper way to write the numbers and the letters of the alphabet. At the back of the classroom was a large ‘sand’ table with assorted sized blocks to challenge the youthful imaginations. Hanging from hooks above the front blackboard were the oversized reading charts, one I still recall to this day was about a character named Baby Ray who “had a little dog. Baby Ray loved the little dog and the little dog loved Baby Ray.” It was a start.
The “necessities” were located outside. Books had to be purchased from a local vendor in Dillon. I seem to remember that there was a pump to provide drinking water. The playground was divided into two areas; one side was for boys and the other for girls, and the two did not mingle. We had two recesses, one shorter one was called the little recess and the longer one was the big recess. Games were organized by the students themselves although “pop the whip’ was discouraged. Students brought their own lunches; there was no cafeteria. Students generally helped to keep the building clean and were responsible for making the fires during cold weather. There was no such thing as a PTA. We had assembly every Friday which generally consisted of group singing. My fifth/sixth grade and piano teacher Miss Sara Herring played the piano for us to march to and from the auditorium. At the end of school year we had a closing program
in the auditorium we called school breaking.
My teachers there were Miss Maggie in the first grade, Miss Weatherly in the second, Miss Cousar and Miss Hasty in the third and fourth grades, Miss Herring in the fifth and sixth and Mr. Lennon, the teaching principal, in the seventh grade. All lady teachers were addressed as Miss. While I was a Hamer student, Mr. Earl Alford was a onetime principal.
I entered Hamer School in 1934. There was no long list of things I was required to know to be “ready” for the first grade. There was no such thing as going to school before entering the first grade either. Despite these “shortcomings’’ we made it although by today’s standards, we would be classified as deprived.
“Success, remember, is the reward of toil.”—Sophocles
PO Box 128
Hamer, SC 29547