Booker T. Washington High School
Columbia, South Carolina

The Secondary School Study Web Exhibition
by Craig Kridel, Curator


In 1940, Booker T. Washington High School was invited to participate in the Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools for Negroes’ Secondary School Study. Selected and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, sixteen of the most distinguished black high schools in the United States participated in an experimental program to reexamine administrative, curricular, and instructional practices. The University of South Carolina’s Museum of Education is pleased to feature Booker T. Washington High School and its participation in the study.

Booker Washington was a public city/urban high school with 45 teachers serving approximately 1,200 pupils in grades 7-11. The school developed a general philosophy to guide curriculum development that focused on growth for “knowledge, skills, habits, attitudes, and appreciations” with the goal of developing an integrated personality and fostering a democratic way of life. The faculty attempted to introduce teacher-pupil planning and to “deemphasize subjects as ends in themselves and to reveal them as means of solving problems.”

W. A. Robinson

Letter of Invitation to Participate in the Study

January 23, 1940
We would like to include the most promising high schools in the Region. For instance, the school should have as principal one of the most promising principals in the state from the standpoint of his training, energy, capability and general alertness to educational progress. The staff should have good fundamental training and an intellectual approach to their work with materials, with boys and girls, and with community problems. We should select in each state the school that has already made the most intelligent approach from each of these angles, that is, is already carrying on a successful program.

Sincerely yours,
W. A. Robinson, Director
Secondary School Study
Atlanta University, Atlanta, GA

  While the Association sought to achieve accreditation for its member schools and to make strides for equitable support—separate AND equal—for black education, some educators believed teachers were not involved in progressive education’s “stream of educational ideas” and, thus, were placing too much emphasis on traditional instructional practices. For this reason, the Rockefeller Foundation invited distinguished schools to help define promising practices and to serve as a laboratory for determining goals for black youth.    
With oral history interviews conducted in between the years 2008-2015

left to right:

Fannie Phelps Adams
Matthew J. Perry, Jr.
Stonewall Richburg



With special thanks to Anthony Edwards and Bobby Donaldson of the University of South Carolina and Fannie Phelps Adams. Archival materials from the B. T. Washington High School Foundation, The South Caroliniana Library, and the Museum of Education of the University of South Carolina were used in this research.


left to right:

Anthony Edwards

Bobby Donaldson with Fannie Phelps Adams


“Booker was a school that developed the whole child—
personal traits, needs, interests, and skills necessary for success in life.
Teachers viewed themselves as progressives. We talked about John Dewey
but did not use the term progressive education. We were progressives
and put the theories into practice without having to say the ideas
that would have caused suspicion.
We just did it and were guided by our principal, Mr. Simmons.” 

Fannie Phelps Adams, who began teaching at the school in 1943

The Museum of Education’s Web Exhibitions center primarily on the academic life of individual schools during the 1940s and early 1950s, the focus of the Secondary School Study. Our vignettes serve not to lessen the accomplishments and accolades from prior or subsequent decades nor do they diminish the significance of the social and athletic dimensions of school life. Instead, the Museum presents web exhibitions of the Secondary School Study schools as a way to feature the experimental efforts of progressive educators during the 1940s. Since these vignettes were not prepared to serve as school histories, we encourage alumni and historians to prepare their own comprehensive school accounts, histories, and memoirs of these important educational institutions.

The Museum of Education’s Web Exhibitions have been prepared for a general audience and have not used professional terminology from the field of education. Our accounts are intentionally free of detailed bibliographic citations. The curator is currently writing a scholarly account of this project that follows accepted bibliographic practices.

Further, these exhibitions are conceived within a tradition of progressive education where a fruitful experience raises as many questions as it answers. Thus, the information on the various sites has been crafted intentionally to be suggestive—to allow important questions "to float" through the exhibitions rather than to be answered with a false sense of certainty. These sites are works-in-progress and represent an "educational research charrette" as additional historical material is discovered and fresh memories, recollections, and insights come forth by participants and researchers.


an institutional member of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience