Florence C. Benson Elementary School

Also known as: Wheeler Hill School
226 Bull Street, Columbia, SC

Historic Segregation Era School


Florence C. Benson Elementary School, Facade

South Carolina Department of Archives and History

View this photo at nationalregister.sc.gov


Street View 


The Florence C. Benson Elementary School is significant for its association with the system of racial segregation in Columbia, South Carolina. Constructed ca. 1953-1955 in Wheeler Hill, a poor African-American neighborhood that was segregated from the white sections of Columbia by custom, to serve African-American students who were segregated from their white counterparts by law, the Florence C. Benson Elementary School is both an example of the state government’s efforts during the early 1950s to maintain “separate but equal” school systems for black and white children and one of the last remnants of a segregated black residential area. The school opened as the Wheeler Hill School in 1955 for 270 African American students in the first through sixth grades. The Wheeler Hill School replaced the Celia Dial Saxon Negro Elementary School, which was overcrowded and needed rehabilitation. In 1958, it was renamed in honor of Florence Corinne Benson, a former teacher at the school. The school, built of concrete block and red brick veneer on a masonry foundation with a three-finger plan, was designed by local white architect James B. Urquhart. With its one-story classroom wings and rows of interior and exterior windows, the building was a typical equalization school, and typical of new school construction in the post-World War II era, reflecting influences of the Modern and International styles. Comprising eighteen classrooms, a library, a nurse’s office, a large modern kitchen, and a combined cafeteria and auditorium, the school served approximately five hundred students. The equalization funds also paid for desks, tables, visual aid and music equipment, maps, and cafeteria equipment. The school served the Wheeler Hill community until 1975, when it closed its doors due to declining enrollment. Listed in the National Register October 7, 2009. - SCDAH

Update Log 

  • October 10, 2014: Photo imported by Michael Miller
  • April 7, 2014: Added by Michael Miller