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University of South Carolina to name dorm for Black educator

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A residence hall at the University of South Carolina will be named for Celia Dial Saxon, a renowned Black educator and university graduate. 

The residence hall, which houses 297 upperclassmen at 700 Lincoln St., will be the first building named for an African American on campus, according to a news release from the school. 

Saxon, born Celia Emma Dial in 1857, was one of the first Black students to attend South Carolina College, later the University of South Carolina, during Reconstruction. After graduation, she taught at Columbia’s Howard School for 57 years. She married Thomas A. Saxon, dean of Allen University’s law school, in 1890. 

“Celia Dial Saxon is one of the university’s most remarkable alumni, a woman whose impact and reputation stretched across the nation,” Harris Pastides, interim president of the University of South Carolina, said in the release. “Our university rightly honors her by naming this building for her. Not only was she a true education pioneer, but she embodied the spirit of equality and justice through her life’s work. The Celia Dial Saxon Building will stand as a reminder to current and future generations of students of the high ideals she championed.”

A dedication ceremony will be held soon, said Dorn Smith, university board of trustees chair. The residence hall is located near Colonial Life Arena and adjacent to the historic Ward One District, where Celia Dial Saxon Elementary School was located until it closed in 1968.
 
“As a great woman, peerless educator, and one of the most admired and respected citizens of South Carolina, Celia Dial Saxon is more than worthy of this honor,” said Smith, who had identified naming a building for a prominent African American as a board goal. “I’m very proud that the board recognized the importance of commemorating her contribution to our culture and our heritage.”

Saxon was active in the national Women’s Club Movement and was a founder of the Fairworld Industrial Home for Negro Girls in Lexington County as well as the Wilkinson Orphanage of Negro Children. She was also involved with the Palmetto State Teachers’ Association, the South Carolina Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Woman’s Chrisitan Temperance Union. 

In 1926, Saxon received an honorary Master of Arts degree from the State Agricultural and Mechanical College at Orangeburg, and Columbia’s Blossom Street public school was renamed for her in 1929, according to the release. 

Saxon died on Jan. 29, 1935, while grading papers at her Columbia home.
 
 “Celia Dial Saxon’s life stands as a testament to perseverance, compassion, hard work and a commitment to excellence,” said Alex English, a board member and co-chair of the group that considered candidates for whom to name the residence hall. “Her legacy bestows honor and dignity to our campus. It’s only fitting that, as a distinguished alumna of our state’s largest university, her name be memorialized here.”

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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