by Thomas Schurch, ASLA
The Sterling Community in Greenville, South Carolina, is a significant, legacy Black neighborhood in the Southeast. With its remarkable emergence in the 1890s through establishment of a high school for young Black Americans by Reverend Daniele Melton Minus, a tradition for education and excellence was begun. The son of former slaves, Reverend Minus was supported by philanthropist Mrs. E.R. Sterling, for whom the school and later the neighborhood were named. Sterling High School was ultimately adopted by the public school system, a new and prominent building was built, and it became a center of educational, social, and spiritual life in the community and neighborhood.
The neighborhood’s significance in the Civil Rights Movement during and prior to the 1960s and beyond is particularly noteworthy, as partially evidenced by the prominence of Jesse Jackson, who was raised there. In 1967, at a time of integration, Sterling High School was mysteriously burned to the ground—a great loss for the community. With organized efforts within the Movement, Sterling High School’s student body implored the Greenville County School Board to maintain the school’s integrity. It remained a viable institution until 1970, when integration was fully implemented.
In intervening years, outmigration of residents, subsequent neighborhood decline, and recent gentrification of surrounding areas did not diminish Sterling’s place in history as a center of African American life and vitality—a tribute to its legacy and importance. The Sterling Community Trust, formed by Sterling High School graduates in partnership with the City of Greenville, the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority (GCRA), and the Bon Secours St. Francis Health System, represented a broad coalition for neighborhood revitalization.