Sen. Mike Fanning and SCEA President Sherry East cut the ribbon, officially opening the SCEA’s new building.
The South Carolina Education Association recently opened its new location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and Human & Civil Rights celebration luncheon.
The event began with a speech from state Senator Mike Fanning, who celebrated The SCEA’s historic significance and potential for enacting change.
“Teachers matter.” Fanning said. “The only way we’re going to improve the lives of our children is if we take care of the teachers that are taking care of our students. And not just the teachers, the faculty, the staff, the custodians, the bus drivers. And there’s one organization that since the beginning of time has believed in that unity.”
The SCEA was at its original location on Zimalcrest Drive since it was founded in 1967, when the previously all-white SCEA merged with the Palmetto Education Association, a Black teacher advocacy group.
The SCEA had to move locations after the SCDOT took over the property as part of the I-26 widening project. For those in The SCEA’s leadership, the loss of this historic building is bittersweet.
“I get very emotional about the loss of this building,” said SCEA president Sherry East. “But I also sit through traffic.”
Members and leadership alike hope that the new building will bring an opportunity to both honor their history and continue to grow.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Dena Crews, The SCEA’s Vice President. “Ringing in a new year and honoring and recognizing the new headquarters, and that even though we’re in a new building, that our work will not change, that it will even grow stronger.”
Lina Pearson, a now retired teacher, said The SCEA was a comfort to her throughout her 50-year career, which started before school desegregation.
“I first started teaching in 1964, and my principal encouraged me to join the Palmetto Education Association,” said Pearson. “[Our biggest wins] were the salary increases and supply money for teachers, and it’s just awesome having someone to call if you have a problem.”
Pearson hopes that her daughter and other young teachers will also benefit from the SCEA’s advocacy. Other members also hope that the new building will appeal to the younger generation of teachers.
“This facility, it may be inviting for young teachers to realize just what it is that this organization has to offer and take advantage of the training opportunities that we provide for teachers,” said Earline Ulmer, who was a teacher in Calhoun County for 39 years.
In addition to looking forward, the event also celebrated groups and individuals who were part of the progress of human rights in South Carolina public schools.
J.A. Delaine, the son of civil rights activist Reverend De Laine, spoke about The SCEA’s influence in the Brown v. Board decision.
“Today’s celebration is a tangible reminder of The SCEA’s mission to inspire,” De Laine said, “The Palmetto Education association funded [Briggs v. Elliot]… That was the first case to go to the Supreme Court… but the name Brown is on the ruling. [Briggs] is the backbone of it. That idea started and completed from here. It’s our case.”
The event concluded with the screening of “From Segregation to Justice,” a film which tells the story of the Briggs v. Elliot case.
For members, the event served as a reminder of both the progress made, and the promises the organization is dedicated to keep.
“[The] successes from the past give us the strength and stamina to work for a better tomorrow for all of our students,” said Gladys Marquez, an Executive Committee Member of the National Education Association. “We’re not just celebrating a new building, new programs, and new projects…. We’re celebrating the 56 year legacy of the people who made this building possible.”
The SCEA brought a piece of a wall from its previous location to commemorate its history.
Lina Pearson, who taught in South Carolina through segregation, hopes The SCEA continues its work for the next generation of teachers.
Marguirite De Laine, Celeste Boykin, and J.A. De Laine accept an award for their organization, the Briggs-De Laine-Pearson Foundation, for its work for youth in Clarendon County.