Returning to school was a new experience for Brenda Faye Fruster 50 years ago.
The main lesson she learned then was “the type of people around you make a big difference,” she said.
Fruster and two brothers were among 22 African-American students commemorated Monday as trailblazers who began the integration of Richland 1 schools in fall 1964.
Many of those children were members of families whose parents were active in Midlands civil-rights activities.
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The students attended six schools – some now closed – operated by what was then known as the Columbia public school system.
Other former schools live on in new roles.
Booker T. Washington High School today is used for theater instruction and other purposes at the University of South Carolina, with its name still displayed on the building.
Fruster went to Dreher High while brothers Timothy attended class at Hand Middle and Andrew enrolled at Rosewood Elementary.
Each knew their new schools opened the door to academic performance that would make a difference in their lives.
All said they were welcomed and accepted at schools previously open only to white students.
Andrew Fruster, 59, said his transition was eased by playing neighborhood baseball games with many future classmates.
Those relationships made him comfortable from the start, he said.
“I got in some scrapes, but that’s part of growing up,” he said.
It was also easier to walk to schools close to their home near Heyward Street and Kilbourne Road in the Shandon neighborhood instead of being bused to segregated classrooms a few miles away, the Frusters said.
Timothy Fruster, 62, is conscious of being a player in a chapter of local history.
But what matters more is the “whole lot” of friendships developed that endure today, he said.
Oliver Washington, who also went to Dreher, said those students who broke the color line at schools “had spirit” enabling them cope with social change.
His experiences led him back to Richland 1 after college to work as an administrator and counselor for 17 years.
That role let him make sure minority students were welcome “just as everybody went out of their way for me,” he said.