People or places? The debate over naming new schools begins

By Bobby Bryant, Editor,

A new elementary school is being built in Darlington. Should we call it:

Cain, because it will replace Cain Elementary?

Brunson-Dargan, because it will also replace Brunson-Dargan Elementary?

Brunson-Dargan-Cain, or some variation on that, to honor both schools?

Some “place” name based on its location?

Something else entirely?

At a Feb. 25 work session of the Darlington County school board, county Education Superintendent Tim Newman indicated that committees that will consider new names for the Darlington facility and two other new schools might need clearer guidelines from the school board. The board’s “preferred” policy is to name all county schools after geographical areas – but that’s not mandatory.

The board’s informal decision: Wait until the committees come up with the names they want for the new schools, then think about whether the board needs or wants to change its “preferred-place-name” policy.

The board took up the school-name issue largely “to begin the discussion,” said board member Charles Govan of Hartsville. “ … I don’t think it’s going to be a big issue – but it could be. People can be territorial sometimes.”

“I think the board is open to all suggestions,” Govan said. “ … I think at this point, it appears to me everybody is still open-minded about (school names).”

The Darlington school is one of three new elementaries being built in the county; the others are in Hartsville and Lamar. Committees are, or will be, thinking about names for all three, but the school board indicated that the Darlington site is probably going to be the most difficult to pin a name on because of affection for the names of the two schools it will be replacing.

Susannah Brunson

Cain, at 607 1st St., was named after James Lawrence Cain (1870-1944). A plaque at the school says Cain was a pioneering black educator who served as principal of Mayo School for decades. It says the school was named for him in 1953 “in recognition of his foresight, high idealism, unselfish devotion and leadership.”

The yet-unnamed new school is being built at the Cain Elementary site – another factor that might make residents feel that the Cain name should be kept.

Brunson-Dargan, at 400 Wells St., was built in 1953 and was named for educators Margaret Keith Dargan (1876-1967) and Susannah Woods Brunson (1872-1958), according to research by Darlington County Historical Commission Director Brian Gandy. Dargan joined St. John’s School as a teacher in 1909 and also served as its grammar school principal until she retired in 1946. Brunson is listed in newspaper accounts as a “beloved former high school principal at St. John’s.”

Margaret Dargan

Those schools, of course, were named long before the school board adopted its current “preferred” policy of naming schools after where they’re located.

The policy says, “Naming a school is a matter of great importance. It is a matter that deserves thoughtful attention from the board and the administration. Personal prejudice or favoritism, political pressure or temporary popularity should not be an influence in choosing a school name.

Generally, the board prefers to name school facilities for recognized geographical areas.”
The policy adds: “Under certain circumstances, the board will consider requests from school and community groups to name a portion of a building, a single building on a campus with multiple buildings, or a specific area on the campus for a person. The proposed name should have special significance and/or the person has made an outstanding contribution to the school or school system.”

Govan, for one, said he would be open to allowing the new Darlington school to keep the names Cain, Brunson or Dargan, or some combination of the names. He said he would like Darlington residents to take the lead as far as what direction they’d like to go in.

Author: Rachel Howell

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