Mary Elizabeth Sanders, 90, served as a principal for 34 years in a 56-year education career.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Harlem native Mary Sanders will go down in history as Columbia County's first black school-board member.
With 56 years as an educator, she might also be the county's most experienced. She served as principal of North Harlem Elementary School for 17 years. Shortly after she retired in 1988, the school's library was named in her honor.
She served one term on the school board, beginning in 1993. The oldest of three children, she said she decided not to serve a second term so she could care for her sick brother.
She believes her classroom experience and knowledge of the community gave her an advantage on the board.
"A lot of times we were discussing problems with children and I could offer suggestions on how to solve them," she said.
During her life, she has seen a lot of changes in the delivery of education. After she completed grammar school, there were no high schools for black pupils in Harlem, so her parents sent her to Athens High School in Athens, Ga. Her mother also was a school teacher.
When she began her teaching career in 1932 in McDuffie County, Franklin Roosevelt was president and children were still educated in one-room school houses. Children, who were used as farm labor, only went to school for five months during the year.
She was hired by Columbia County School Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard to teach at Pollard Academy, an elementary school, in 1954. She was named the school's principal in 1958. When George T. White Elementary School was built, the pupils were relocated to the new school, which was exclusively first- through fourth-grade boys.
"The interesting thing about that is the boys being separated from the girls. The parents realized that wasn't such a good idea because the boys didn't think about studying like they should. The girls inspired them," she said.
The Sanders Library at North Harlem Elementary School is named after former principal Mary Sanders. A wall in the library documents many of her accomplishments.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
When a position became open at North Harlem Elementary School, which then housed all girls, she took that job and served as its principal for 17 years.
"Sometimes the most important thing you can teach children is not what's found in the pages of an author's book, but what you do ... It's important that we teach them by our actions - that we do what we tell is right," she said in a 1985 interview with The Augusta Chronicle.
During her career, she organized night classes for veterans at Pollard Academy in the 1950s and served as a member of the state textbook committee.
"I did everything I could to help the children and help the schools," said Sanders, who was also an active member of the local, state and national Parent- Teacher Associations while she was an educator.
Now 90 years old, Sanders still is active at New Holt Baptist Church, where she serves as its clerk.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.