Still True to Their School

Standing in front of the Fairfield High School main building are Jean McCrory, Class of ’64 and member of the alumni historical restoration committee, and Robert Davis, Class of 66 and vice president of the alumni association. (Photo/Barbara Ball)

Alumni Association Restoring Historically Black School

WINNSBORO – The red brick school located at 403 Fairfield St. in Winnsboro was built in 1924 and initially accommodated grades 1-9. During the ensuing years, the school added secondary grades, but it was not referred to as a high school. In those days, African-American high schools were generally called ‘training schools,’ with the idea of training students for certain jobs rather than offering a true academic curriculum.

But the students and teachers at the Fairfield Training School rose above that distinction and the negative implication of its name. In 1963, they changed the name to Fairfield High School, and today the Fairfield High School Alumni Association owns the school’s main building and is in the process of restoring it to its glory days when it was the center of their world.

The school compound, which consisted of a main building, a gymnasium and two other buildings, closed in 1970 when Fairfield County schools were integrated. FHS students were transferred to Winnsboro High School, which was located across the bypass from where the Winnsboro Wal-Mart is today. Owned by the Fairfield County School District, the school’s stately main building sat empty for years and would have simply deteriorated with age, if not for the efforts of its devoted graduates.

By the late 1980s, several former FHS students began exploring the possibility of saving their old school building. The idea gained momentum, and they were soon planning an alumni reunion for the fall of 1989. It was a roaring success with almost 800 people coming together for a weekend of socializing, celebrating and planning the restoration in earnest.

According to Donald Prioleau, Class of ’62 and president of the alumni group since 1995, they were determined to save their beloved alma mater from desolation.

“This building has the kind of quality you don’t see much of anymore,” said Jean McCrory, the representative for the Class of ‘64 and a member of the alumni group’s Historical Committee. “It’s very well constructed, with high ceilings, thick walls and the hardwood floors are in great condition. Our goal is to preserve the original character as much as possible.”

On April 22, 2010, the association acquired the building for $5 and a promise to complete a laundry list of improvements within the first 10 years. Prioleau said they’ve kept those promises and more. So far, the group has volunteered untold hours of labor and raised funds to hire out other projects such as installing a new roof, gutters and windows and painting the exterior trim. Prioleau said future projects include restoring the restrooms to working order, painting the interior walls and refinishing the hardwood floors.

“The main building housed the principal’s office, several classrooms and the home economics room. The teachers’ lounge and the old cafeteria were in the basement,” McCrory said. “We’re hoping to restore all of that to its original state. But it’s going to take a lot more money and a lot more work.”

McCrory said the finished building will ideally be used for a variety of recreational and community educational endeavors, such as a meeting place for scout troops and tutoring services.

Paging through the school’s yearbooks, it is evident there was a sweet bond between the teachers and the students and the teachers are still cherished in their former students’ comments. Several, in fact, are still active in the alumni group.

“Each class stayed with the same home room teacher for all three years of high school,” McCrory recalled fondly, “from ninth grade to 11th grade, which back then was when you graduated. I’m still in touch with my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Bernice J. Brown, all the time! She lives across the street from the school, where she’s lived since she started teaching. When new teachers came to the school, they always boarded with Mrs. Brown until they got settled somewhere. And two other teachers, Miss Margaret Roseborough and Mrs. Maude Ross, are both in their 90’s and very much part of our group.”

The devotion the former students have for the school is alive and well. As McCrory and Alumni Association Vice President Robert Davis (Class of ’66) paused for their photo in front of the school recently, an unidentified woman driving past the school rolled down her window and called out proudly: “Class of ‘52!”

McCrory and Davis smiled and waved.

Alumni meetings are held at 7:30 on the third Tuesday evening of every month at the school, and individual graduating classes hold their reunions at various times throughout the year. Lively reunions for the entire 650 registered alumni are planned every two or three years, with the next one scheduled for 2016. They’re always held on Thanksgiving weekend and begin with a Friday evening banquet.

“Then, on Saturday, we have a parade through downtown Winnsboro,” McCrory added, eager to go on about the weekend of fun, “and each class is represented on a beautiful float – we have about 20 floats. After that, we have a big tailgate party on the football field at Garden Street behind the school. On Sunday, we end our weekend with a church service. It’s always a wonderful event. At our last reunion, in 2013, we had over 400 people.”

“But we’re getting older and we’re dying off,” Prioleau, 70, laughed. “The class of ’55 is about our oldest class to actively participate. But the school will go on through our kids and grandkids. We’ve passed down the importance of it and many of them now volunteer their time and donations to further the project.” Prioleau said the next fund raiser is a Chinese auction planned for April or May.

“The combined work of so many people has kept the spirit of the restoration alive,” McCrory said fondly. “This project is very dear to our hearts. That school produced some very good people.”

For more information or to donate to the Fairfield High School historical restoration, contact Donald Prioleau at 803-337-2105, or mail donations to the Fairfield High School Alumni Committee, P.O. Box 1182, Winnsboro, S.C. 29180.