Winnsboro and Fairfield County, South Carolina were home to one of the earliest and most important schools in the South. In 1777 the Mt. Sion (later Mt. Zion) Society formed to offer education to the sons of wealthy plantation owners and a few “objects of charity.” The school remained open in one form or another for the next two centuries.
In early 2019, CHW co-director Elijah Gaddis began meeting with community stakeholders around Mt. Zion. For years, a group of alumni and the local historical society had preserved the memories (and the building) of Mt. Zion. As a team prepared to repurpose the building for county offices, CHW partnered with local groups to help integrate the building’s history into its new iteration. With support from Fairfield County and 1st and Main Development, Gaddis and CHW Fellow Peter Thomas conducted interviews with more than twenty people, held community meetings, and dug through local and statewide archives.
Like all of our projects, the stories we uncovered changed our direction. Community members guided us toward a focus both on who attended Mt. Zion, and who wasn’t able to. From its elite origins through to its years as a segregated public school, Mt. Zion was a place of both community and exclusion. We worked with other alumni groups and many archival resources to begin piecing together the larger story of education, Black and white, in Fairfield County.
Our final report detailed this history and offered suggestions for integrating a fuller, more welcoming story of the educational past into the new Mt. Zion. We are grateful to our many community collaborators, and looking forward to seeing how they continue to realize these complex histories.