What was the Avery Normal Institute? It was Charleston’s, South Carolina, first free secondary school for Black Americans.

Established by New York based American Missionary Association (AMA), and Constructed in 1867 to 1868. The Avery Normal Institute was the first accredited secondary school for Blacks living in Charleston. The institute was staffed with Northern European white missionaries and members of Charleston’s antebellum black community, such as prominent Black Americans the Cardozo brothers. Thomas W. Cardozo served as the institutes first principal from 1865 to 1866, and Francis Lewis Cardozo (February 1, 1836 – July 22, 1903), served as second president from 1866 to 1868. The institute was initially named in honor of New York abolitionist Lewis Tappan (1788 – 1873), but was later renamed Saxton after union General Rufus B. Saxton (October 19, 1824 – February 23, 1908).


The Avery Normal Institute served as an Black American educational institution that trained young adults in professional careers and leaderships roles. While the institute offered “general” courses (farming, sewing, cooking, millinery, laundry, and housekeeping), Avery gave its students a classical education, too, with courses in history, government, economics, languages, literature, methods of teaching, natural philosophy, and physiology. In the 1880s, Avery served as the only educational institution in Charleston that prepared “promising” Blacks for college and playing a role in the development of the professional class of Blacks. Avery students managed to become doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and teachers, not only the Black elite, but also former slaves and working-class Blacks all had experienced higher aspirations.


The Avery Normal Institute closed in 1954, but in 1978 the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture was established to save and renovate the original Avery school building at 125 Bull Street as a repository of Black American history and culture. With Lucille S. Whipper (Avery, 1944) as its first president, the organization joined the College of Charleston to found the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. On October 6, 1990, the grand opening of the renovated building took place.


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