It’s been 58 years since 21 Elloree Training School teachers quit their jobs rather than deny membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Three of the living “Elloree 21” and family members of the deceased were presented with a presidential citation on Saturday as the Orangeburg Branch NAACP commemorated its 70th anniversary with its 20th annual Freedom Fund Banquet.
Laura Pickett Fleshman, Rosa Haigler Stroman and Hattie Fulton Anderson received a standing ovation for their heroism and their tenacious fight for equality for themselves and the students they taught.
This year, the South Carolina House and Senate jointly passed a resolution that reads in part: “On May 18, 1956, the Orangeburg newspaper reported that twenty-one Negro teachers had resigned from their teaching positions in Elloree, some teachers simply refusing to say whether they were members of the NAACP, and others refusing to fill out the required application; the teachers at Elloree garnered national media attention, but they never had a plan or strategy to deal with the prohibition against NAACP membership for state, county, and municipal employees; and by expressing their constitutional rights, these teachers suffered serious financial and career challenges for themselves and their families for years to come.”
Many of the 21 Elloree teachers looked for teaching positions for years before any school would risk hiring them, causing them severe financial hardships and emotional and mental stress.
It took Anderson, a Kingstree native and 1953 graduate of Benedict College, seven years to find employment “because principals were afraid of hiring us.”
Anderson, who taught first through third grades at the training school, said she felt widespread discrimination.
Stroman was a young teacher eager to begin her career in education after graduating from then-Claflin College.
However, she felt it was more important to “stand up for our rights than be put on a back burner and overlooked as second-class citizens.”
Stroman was hired as a teacher, “100 miles away in Bluffton. It took four years for me to find another teaching position, but I had to show the example that you have to be brave even though you may suffer. If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will?”
Camden native Laura Pickett Fleshman vowed never to return to South Carolina after her decision to leave her job to work for the New York Department of Social Services. However, the Benedict College graduate later found herself back in the state where her life changed.
“I really enjoyed my students. I was about to start teaching third grade after having taught first and second grade, but I talked with my father who was also a member of the NAACP and he said to me, ‘You had better not sign those affidavits.’ So we tore it up and I wouldn’t have done it any other way,” she said.
Also remembered during the event was the late Rubena Way Fogle, who just months earlier served on the planning committee for the event before her death in April.
Guests at the evening’s event were treated to a musical performance by Claflin sophomore and Orangeburg Branch National Student Act-So Winner Diamond Tyler.
Toastmaster for the event was hall of fame coach Willie Jefferies and remarks were given by Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler; Jordon Tate-Smith, president of the Orangeburg Branch NAACP Youth Council; Dr. Sarah Favors; Broadus Jamerson III, banquet chair and Barbara Johnson-Williams, Orangeburg Branch president.
The speaker for Saturday’s event was South Carolina State University Board Chairman Dr. William Small Jr., who said there has been racial progress “from the White House to the Attorney General to the Supreme Court justice.” Even so, “we are still not there yet.”
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