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  • Louis Venters

Mt. Zion School: Florence-area Treasure Highlighted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation

I was beyond pleased this moring to see this great interview on the website of the National Trust for Historic Preservation--the leading national advocate for protecting the priceless heritage of our built environment. In the interview, Florence native Mrs. Mabel Dickey introduces the Mt. Zion School at Mars Bluff, the rural community that also includes the campus of Francis Marion University, and explains ongoing efforts to preserve the building.

The Mt. Zion School, located a mile from where my office currently sits, was a Rosenwald school, built by and for the local African American community in 1925 with partial funding from a Chicago-based philanthropy. The Rosenwald School Building Program, begun in 1912 by Julius Rosenwald, heir to the Sears-Roebuck fortune, assisted in the building of thousands of schools for rural black communities across the South. The 1925 building replaced an even older one, constructed shortly after the Civil War by the Mt. Zion Methodist Church. Thus from Reconstruction until the 1950s, the Mt. Zion School provided primary education for generations of black children in this area and served as an anchor of community life. It tells important stories about education in Jim Crow South Carolina. And it's one of a number of sites in the immediate neighborhood of FMU--including the two remaining slave cabins on campus and the Jamestown settlement--that make Mars Bluff a potentially rich area for interpreting African American history from the antebellum period to the recent past.

I'm thankful to the local residents who have been working hard to preserve the physical integrity of this important local landmark and to make it available for the community's use well into the future, and I'm looking forward to getting my students to the site for a tour!

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