Uncovering the History of Bonds-Wilson High School, the Origin of the AMHS and SOA Campus


Construction of Bonds-Wilson in progress

Most of the historical information we learn is based on national trends and turning points in time. But local history has a life of its own and is just as important to learn.

The Bonds-Wilson campus is home to the Charleston County School of the Arts and Academic Magnet High School. Who is the campus named after, and what is the history behind it? Let’s take an introductory look.

In 1896, the Supreme Court established the “separate but equal” era with Plessy v. Ferguson, but for many regions, especially in the south, segregation without equality was the reality. In 1951, Governor James Byrnes began to construct equalization schools in South Carolina in an effort to increase the state’s literacy rate and reduce the disparity between Black and White education. However, the program maintained segregation. Rebekah Dobrasko, who studied South Carolina’s school equalization program, concluded that it improved education for students of all races but did not prevent integration as intended due to the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education. Laing High, Buist Elementary, Jennie Moore Elementary, and Haut Gap High were among all-black schools that were part of the equalization program before integration. All-white schools included Memminger Elementary, Moultrie High, James Island High, and Albemarle Elementary.

Bonds-Wilson High School in North Charleston formerly served as an all-black equalization school as well. According to the Avery Center at the College of Charleston:

J. R. Bonds (1904-1992) was an African-American educator from South Carolina. He attended Marion High School and graduated from South Carolina State College. He also completed course work at Atlanta School of Social Science. He began teaching in 1927 and, in 1936, started working for Cooper River School District Four. In 1946, Bonds was selected as the Schools’ Supervisor for District Four. In 1950, in recognition for developing the high school program in the district, the Six Mile High School was officially renamed Bonds-Wilson High School in honor of J. R. Bonds and John T. Wilson.

J. R. Bonds married Lacy Campbell (1910-1973), daughter of Daniel Campbell and Jeanette Rogers. Lacy Campbell Bonds, a registered nurse, worked as her husband’s secretary during his tenure at Bonds-Wilson High School.

John T. Wilson earned degrees from Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute in 1936, Allen University in 1951, and South Carolina State College in 1956. He served as a master sergeant in the 360th Port Battalion in the United States Army, discharging in 1945. John T. Wilson became principal of the now-defunct Six Mile High School in North Charleston, South Carolina, which was renamed Bonds-Wilson High School to honor John T. Wilson and James R. Bonds.

Bonds-Wilson High School was built in the 1950s, integrated in 1971 and closed in 1985. Students were then sent to North Charleston High School. However, Bonds-Wilson Avenue still branches off Montague Avenue, pointing towards where the school once was.

We gratefully acknowledge Tara McCart, the Archives and History Clerk at the City of North Charleston, for her painstaking work on finding articles, photographs, interviews, research reports, and other records on the high school for which our campus is named.

A Google Maps view of the Bonds-Wilson campus