Mr. W.H. Lewis: A Tribute

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FLORENCE-Mr. William Haven Lewis was the principal of Burrell-Slater High School from its opening in 1937 to its merger with Bradshaw and Coffee High Schools in 1969. Burrell-Slater served African-American students in Florence in grades seven through twelve. Additionally, African-American students in those grades who lived in western Lauderdale County came to Burrell-Slater by bus until the County School Board eventually opened West End High School in the Oakland community. Burrell-Slater was originally located on South Court Street where the Hampton Inn is located today, but that building was destroyed by fire in 1958. While the building was on fire, Mr. Lewis went into the burning building to retrieve student records, which were mainly large manila cards with vital student data on them. These records increased in value as the students grew older because they could be used for such purposes as proof of birthdate when applying for Social Security benefits. So, under the leadership of Mr. Lewis, the African-American high schoolers spent two years (1958 and 1959) in the former Patton School building which was located on East College Street near the entry to the City Cemetery. In 1960, the present Burrell-Slater School building on Cherokee Street opened to welcome the students, still with Mr. Lewis at the helm. Nine years later, 1969, it closed for the merger with Bradshaw and Coffee. It remains in use today, with a variety of programs based there. Through it all, Mr. W.H. Lewis was the constant, the anchor for hundreds of students during the tumultuous years of his tenure. –Billy Warren, Florence Historian

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