Beaufort News

Brothers made history in 1964 as first black students at Beaufort High

Rowland and Craig Washington made history when they integrated the all-white Beaufort schools in 1964.

The brothers have since distinguished themselves for other reasons.

Rowland, 61, is a chef and proprietor of "We Island" Gumbo N' Tings on St. Helena Island.

Craig, 56, is an accomplished jazz guitarist and music instructor and substitute teacher in Beaufort County schools.

Rowland was the first black student to attend Beaufort High School, and Craig was one of the few black students to attend Beaufort Elementary the same year, about a decade after the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregated public schools unconstitutional.

Both brothers did so at the direction of their parents: Charles, a lawyer and classmate of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and Juanita, a local schoolteacher.

When asked about those times, the brothers speak of some uncomfortable moments but say integration went relatively smoothly in Beaufort compared to other places.

Both men say their experiences have proven advantageous in their chosen careers.

Rowland supplies 30 vendors between Charleston and Savannah with his line of Lowcountry-inspired products, including spices, breading, and tartar and cocktail sauces, and he's looking to mass produce his gumbo for major grocery stores.

He says the friendships he cultivated in school helped him connect with potential customers and develop his business.

"I think it's been a pretty good asset for me over the years," he said.

Craig once made a living playing guitar throughout the Southeast and Midwest and now works as a substitute teacher to supplement his music career, which he says is his real passion.

He says he was drawn to the classroom by inspiring teachers such as author Pat Conroy, and he has heard new styles of music and visited new places while playing in integrated bands with white youth.

"There's no doubt I was exposed to a wider world than I would've been otherwise," he said.