DENMARK, S.C. (WJBF) – It was called an unusual experiment in education, a school training African-American students in mechanical and trade skills to convert common labor into skilled ones.
“Yeah, that’s the barracks I was here. I believe the canteen was somewhere in there,” former student and employee William Collins told NewsChannel 6’s Shawn Cabbagestalk while looking at photos of the original campus.
That experiment at South Carolina Area Trade School changed the trajectory of the lives of many African-Americans like Collins.
“I senior and he would recruit students for the school for those years back in 1954, you know,” he recalled.
The “he” Collins is referred to is LH Dawkins, the first leader of the trade school.
“The way he standing he was that kind of fella. He stood his grounds,” Collins remembered while looking at a photo of the principal.
“When I was here, it was really wooden buildings all of these buildings what you see now, I call them new facilities,” Collins said jokingly.
Along with Dawkins, six faculty members and 42 students met on the campus – with mostly mud and only two buildings – offering training in six trades.
“I know a lot of these here. this is my carpentry instructor right here,” Collins said while looking at a photo of the first group of instructors and students.
“I was a commuting student. I drove from Barnwell, South Carolina to the college. I drove my 1979 Oldsmobile and I still have that car,” former Student and current employee Rose Ingram recalled.
The great tradition of excellence in sports was also on full display at the school.
“In 1967 and1968, the baseball team went undefeated and prior to that, they had a football team and that football team went undefeated for a couple of years,” National Alumni President James Bowden remembered.
“I guess he was somewhat a different coach from the average coach,” William Collins said.
Bowden majored in electronic technology at the school and was able to snag a job at Duke Energy. The first out of a total of nine children to further his education in his family. For him, his time at the trade school, allowed him to experience more than what he saw in his household.
“It gave me an opporunity to be around other smart children in the state of South Carolina and being around other smart kids, it gave you the opportunity to learn from them as well,” Bowden said.
And it also helped that he made the basketball team, as well. “Just enjoying the fact that we could go out and beat the four-year colleges. That really made me feel good about this little small school,” he shared.
As the college began to expand, new buildings were added. In 1979, the college was renamed Denmark Technical College.
“I want us to return back to the community college that we used to be,” Interim President Dr. Christopher J. Hall said.
Since it’s humble beginnings in 1948, 11 leaders and school presidents have been at the helm of Denmark Technical College including Dr. Hall. “I want Denmark Technical College to be a light or a beacon in the community,” he added.
His goal, to move the once thriving epicenter for the community into the 21st century. “The College used to be the hub of activity for the whole community that we serve. if someone needed a dress made, they would come out here. If someone needed a hair cut, they would come out here. If someone needed some shoes, they would come to the college,” he said.
While some of the programs are not offered anymore, there are some new things that have been added.”If someone started a new business and they need a website, we teach website design here. So a small start-up company can come here and we can get our students to do that as a project,” Dr. Hall shared.
He also wants to bring the arts back to Bamberg County and the surrounding areas by attracting different artist from different genres to the area. “So that the young people here in this area are exposed to the arts as well as the sciences and the technology that we currently teach,” he said.
Cyber-security probably wasn’t on the mind of LH Dawkins when the first students attended the school but fast-forward, the booming industry has made a place to train at Denmark Tech. Frank Gordon came down from New York just for the program.
“Growing up I had a love for computers and video games and I knew I didn’t want to go the video game design aspect of it. I wanted to focus on computers so cybersecurity is up-and-coming with more things coming to the internet, there needs to be more security. I wanted to be a part of that technology field,” he said.
A number of programs are accreditated including its early childhood program.
“Because of the NAEYC accreditation, our students are able to matriculate better and have better access to transfer to a four-year school,” Instructor Rosland Kinner said.
“We are bringing everybody back together to have a good time and on good terms. It’s not like somebody’s dying and we’re at a funeral. What we do is nurture our young people where they may go to other colleges and are just a number when they come to an HBCU, they become a part of the culture,” Dr. Hall said.