GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)–50 years ago on Monday, schools in Greenville County became integrated. Five African American high schools in the district were closed and the education system was forever changed.
“When that was sprung upon the student body it was a shock for every body,” Clyde Mayes, who was a student at the time, sad.
A basketball star, and a future NBA player, Clyde Mayes learned his state championship bound team would be split up.
“We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know what was going on. There was some disappointment there were some people who really didn’t want to go and some didn’t,” Mayes said.
Mayes eventually leading his new team at Wade Hampton High School to victory. Now, he serves as a living part of history.
“Just for them to be able to see me and know that I experienced it and ask me questions and I feel it’s very important,” Mayes said.
He and others who were part of integration commemorating the historical day as part of an exhibit at the Upcountry Historical Museum.
“There were a lot of sacrifices made to get us to this point and we understand that we have a long way to go and I think that we wanted this event to be a recognition of that,” Greenville Schools spokesperson Beth Brotherton said.
Organizers with the school district say it was important to have people who lived the history come to speak.
“Their ability to remember small details and the things that made them who they are,” Brotherton said.
She said the Letterman jackets, yearbooks, and other memorabilia from the five African American high schools that were shuttered stand as a tangible part of that history.
“They really lost their heritage over a weekend. They lost their mascots. They lost their teams. They lost their colors. They lost their community,” Brotherton said.
Mayes said although integration was a challenge, he believes the county is better for it. He has some advice to pass along that helped him 50 years ago.
“Never give up on your dreams and whatever obstacles are put in front of you don’t give up keep doing what you’re doing and believe in yourself,” Mayes said.
The district created a documentary commemorating the integration will be available online for anyone who wasn’t able to make it to the exhibit.