The Canty Women, Full Circle: A Story of Courage and Caring

By

Mary Canty (seated) with her daughter and granddaughter

On June 24, 2006, a tiny grey-haired lady in a bright blue cap and gown came forward to commence the dedication ceremony of the newly restored Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center. Raising her arms toward the sky, Mary Canty exclaimed, “To God be the glory. Great things He has done!” All present knew that God had a lot of earthly help from Mary Canty and her classmates who worked so hard to save this important piece of local history. The building is a treasure trove of local history, especially for the graduates who have lived to see history come full circle and take pride in remembering all they have endured and overcome.

Prior to the 1932 opening of the school, children in the tightly knit black community could attend classes only at churches. Having their own public school was a great source of pride for students who attended there during its twenty year history. The school closed in 1953 and remained vacant and untended for over 20 years, an eyesore in the heart of the neighborhood it has served so well. Led by Mary Canty, a group of former students approached the City of Myrtle Beach for assistance in saving the building. They persisted until City Council answered their call for help and appointed a committee with Mary as its head. The city also provided seed money to start a fund-raising campaign. Over the next five years, with help from across the community, the group raised over $400,000, beginning with the publication of its now-famous The Colored Wo-Men’s Cookbook.

To their great credit, the former students insisted that the building retain its original name, believing it would be revising history to change it. They also wanted the facility to function in an educational capacity, continuing to serve the community. The beautiful building, now located at 900 Dunbar Street, is a living tribute to those who gave so much to make it happen. City Planner Diane Moskow-McKenzie, who has worked closely with the group for many years, says, “If not for Mary Canty’s persistence, there would not be a Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Adult Education Center today.” The building houses Horry County Adult Education classes, A Fathers Place, and the Museum representing what a classroom at the school would have looked like during times of segregation.

A Myrtle Beach native, Mary Canty has spent her entire 75 years within a few miles of her birthplace on Oak Street, yet her imprint on the entire Myrtle Beach community has been huge. One of the first students at the Myrtle Beach Colored School, Mary treasured this opportunity and, even today, can recall the names of each of her teachers, especially the principal, Rev. Stackhouse, who was a strong influence on her life. The school building was heated with a stove which older students kept supplied with buckets of coal from an outside bin. It served first through eighth grades, and the school year lasted only four months due to farming demands. Originally, students who chose to continue beyond eighth grade commuted to Whittemore High School in Conway, but eventually, Rev. Stackhouse was able to add two more grades to the school in Myrtle Beach. Then, as now, the community looked after its own. Mary says even though no one had telephones, students who got in trouble at school knew their mothers would be waiting with a switch when they walked through the door that afternoon!

At that time the black community was somewhat insulated by its isolation but certainly not completely. A bus would arrive for boys aged 12-14 to work as caddies at Pine Lakes Country Club. Women who worked as domestics could escort children to the beach but were allowed to enter the ocean only at all-black Atlantic or McKenzie Beach. When asked about these and other subsequent painful aspects of segregation, Mary simply says, “I endured…Bitterness and anger are poisons to your body and your spirit.”

Myrtle Beach High School students, including Whitney, attended the 2009 Presidential Inauguration

Mary finished tenth grade, married, and, over time, had six children who became the center of her world. She was willing to do whatever had to be done, which often included walking to work to make $4.50 a day, then stopping at school for a teacher conference before returning to a home with no indoor plumbing. When the opportunity arose, she took a position at AVX in the production area, one of the first non-custodial positions offered to blacks. Mary could handle the walk to and from work and eating her lunch alone each day, but she quit the job after 13 months when a supervisor ordered her to clean up a hazardous acid spill caused by another worker. As badly as she needed the job, she knew it was more important to keep her dignity and be an example to her children.

Soon afterward Mary found a position as a cashier with Santee Cooper which she held until her retirement 25 years later. She instilled this sense of pride in each of her children, telling them, “You are no better than anyone, but you are as good as anybody.” In 1965 her daughter, Martha, followed Mary’s example as one of four students to integrate Myrtle Beach High School, an important and courageous step which opened the door to those who came after her.

One of those was her own little sister, Mary “Cookie” Canty Goings, who in 1968 was among the first students to integrate Myrtle Heights Elementary School. Today a guidance counselor at Myrtle Beach High School, Cookie, like her mother, does not dwell on hardships she encountered, simply saying, “I never knew I was poor until 1968.” Cecelia Shaw, her fifth grade teacher, said, “Cookie as a youngster was the same person she is today; respectful, pleasant, willing and hard-working, and Mary was always there lending support.” With Mary’s example and encouragement, Cookie never seemed to notice the invisible fences that trip up others with a lesser vision. At Myrtle Beach High School Cookie excelled in her studies, athletics and extracurricular activities as a cheerleader and track star. Her record was so outstanding that in her senior year, 1978, Cookie was selected to receive the prestigious Alpha Delta Kappa scholarship.

She graduated from Newberry College in 1982 with a degree in educational counseling and later received a Masters degree from USC. After college she worked briefly in Georgetown County and at Horry-Georgetown Tech before accepting a position at Myrtle Beach High School where she has served with joy for the last 23 years. Meanwhile, she married her high school sweetheart, Eric Goings, and became the busy mother of Whitney (15) and E.J. (14) who make her life complete. A hard-working, fun-loving woman, she loves stylish clothes, particularly her trademark high heel shoes. Asked how she has accomplished so much despite the obvious odds, Cookie replies with a smile, “I never knew I was not supposed to.”

Dedication Ceremony at the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum

Cookie is her mother’s child in every sense of the word. Like Mary, she is dedicated to helping anyone in need. “I am a Village child,” she says, referring to the concept that it takes an entire community to raise a child. She feels a tremendous responsibility to give back and views her work as an opportunity to pay forward in a cycle of goodness. One example is TAPS, a club Cookie started at Myrtle Beach High School to raise awareness of prejudice and stereotypes. With other Guidance staff members, she is constantly on the look-out for students in need of physical or emotional support. Recently, concerns have arisen over an increasing number of students documented to be virtually on their own. Without any parental support, they courageously continue to stay in school despite tremendous odds. Remarkably, last year, of the seven MBHS identified students, five graduated high school. Of those five, four are now in college, three of those on scholarships, and one is in the military.

As if in preparation for this moment, Cookie, for years, has had a secret vision of opening a permanent shelter for students such as these who need a nurturing place to live, a place she named Hope House. It was a dream she shared with no one because it seemed so impossible. However, increasing public awareness in the Myrtle Beach community has brought together a core group of educators, private citizens and public officials who are working to make it a reality. Tears well in Cookie’s eyes as she reflects: “If God is in it, it will be.”

For Mary Canty and Mary “Cookie” Canty Goings, life has indeed come full circle. Both women have dedicated themselves to seeing life as it should be, a dream they each pass forward to the next generation. One blessed recipient of that dream is their own 15 year-old Whitney Goings, who on January 20, attended the historic 2009 Presidential Inauguration with a group of Myrtle Beach High School classmates. Thanks to the courage and caring of Mary, Cookie and many like-minded heroes, for Whitney, and her generation, the future is truly one filled with limitless possibilities.

The Myrtle Beach Historic Colored School Museum is open Monday-Thursday. Call 918-1050 for more information. To learn more about the Hope House project, contact mgoings@horrycountyschools.net.

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  • Mary Canty (seated) with her daughter and granddaughter

    On June 24, 2006, a tiny grey-haired lady in a bright blue cap and gown came forward to commence the dedication ceremony of the newly restored Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Education Center. Raising her arms toward the sky, Mary Canty exclaimed, “To God be the glory. Great things He has done!” All present knew that God had a lot of earthly help from Mary Canty and her classmates who worked so hard to save this important piece of local history. The building is a treasure trove of local history, especially for the graduates who have lived to see history come full circle and take pride in remembering all they have endured and overcome.

    Prior to the 1932 opening of the school, children in the tightly knit black community could attend classes only at churches. Having their own public school was a great source of pride for students who attended there during its twenty year history. The school closed in 1953 and remained vacant and untended for over 20 years, an eyesore in the heart of the neighborhood it has served so well. Led by Mary Canty, a group of former students approached the City of Myrtle Beach for assistance in saving the building. They persisted until City Council answered their call for help and appointed a committee with Mary as its head. The city also provided seed money to start a fund-raising campaign. Over the next five years, with help from across the community, the group raised over $400,000, beginning with the publication of its now-famous The Colored Wo-Men’s Cookbook.

    To their great credit, the former students insisted that the building retain its original name, believing it would be revising history to change it. They also wanted the facility to function in an educational capacity, continuing to serve the community. The beautiful building, now located at 900 Dunbar Street, is a living tribute to those who gave so much to make it happen. City Planner Diane Moskow-McKenzie, who has worked closely with the group for many years, says, “If not for Mary Canty’s persistence, there would not be a Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum and Adult Education Center today.” The building houses Horry County Adult Education classes, A Fathers Place, and the Museum representing what a classroom at the school would have looked like during times of segregation.

    A Myrtle Beach native, Mary Canty has spent her entire 75 years within a few miles of her birthplace on Oak Street, yet her imprint on the entire Myrtle Beach community has been huge. One of the first students at the Myrtle Beach Colored School, Mary treasured this opportunity and, even today, can recall the names of each of her teachers, especially the principal, Rev. Stackhouse, who was a strong influence on her life. The school building was heated with a stove which older students kept supplied with buckets of coal from an outside bin. It served first through eighth grades, and the school year lasted only four months due to farming demands. Originally, students who chose to continue beyond eighth grade commuted to Whittemore High School in Conway, but eventually, Rev. Stackhouse was able to add two more grades to the school in Myrtle Beach. Then, as now, the community looked after its own. Mary says even though no one had telephones, students who got in trouble at school knew their mothers would be waiting with a switch when they walked through the door that afternoon!

    At that time the black community was somewhat insulated by its isolation but certainly not completely. A bus would arrive for boys aged 12-14 to work as caddies at Pine Lakes Country Club. Women who worked as domestics could escort children to the beach but were allowed to enter the ocean only at all-black Atlantic or McKenzie Beach. When asked about these and other subsequent painful aspects of segregation, Mary simply says, “I endured…Bitterness and anger are poisons to your body and your spirit.”

    Myrtle Beach High School students, including Whitney, attended the 2009 Presidential Inauguration

    Mary finished tenth grade, married, and, over time, had six children who became the center of her world. She was willing to do whatever had to be done, which often included walking to work to make $4.50 a day, then stopping at school for a teacher conference before returning to a home with no indoor plumbing. When the opportunity arose, she took a position at AVX in the production area, one of the first non-custodial positions offered to blacks. Mary could handle the walk to and from work and eating her lunch alone each day, but she quit the job after 13 months when a supervisor ordered her to clean up a hazardous acid spill caused by another worker. As badly as she needed the job, she knew it was more important to keep her dignity and be an example to her children.

    Soon afterward Mary found a position as a cashier with Santee Cooper which she held until her retirement 25 years later. She instilled this sense of pride in each of her children, telling them, “You are no better than anyone, but you are as good as anybody.” In 1965 her daughter, Martha, followed Mary’s example as one of four students to integrate Myrtle Beach High School, an important and courageous step which opened the door to those who came after her.

    One of those was her own little sister, Mary “Cookie” Canty Goings, who in 1968 was among the first students to integrate Myrtle Heights Elementary School. Today a guidance counselor at Myrtle Beach High School, Cookie, like her mother, does not dwell on hardships she encountered, simply saying, “I never knew I was poor until 1968.” Cecelia Shaw, her fifth grade teacher, said, “Cookie as a youngster was the same person she is today; respectful, pleasant, willing and hard-working, and Mary was always there lending support.” With Mary’s example and encouragement, Cookie never seemed to notice the invisible fences that trip up others with a lesser vision. At Myrtle Beach High School Cookie excelled in her studies, athletics and extracurricular activities as a cheerleader and track star. Her record was so outstanding that in her senior year, 1978, Cookie was selected to receive the prestigious Alpha Delta Kappa scholarship.

    She graduated from Newberry College in 1982 with a degree in educational counseling and later received a Masters degree from USC. After college she worked briefly in Georgetown County and at Horry-Georgetown Tech before accepting a position at Myrtle Beach High School where she has served with joy for the last 23 years. Meanwhile, she married her high school sweetheart, Eric Goings, and became the busy mother of Whitney (15) and E.J. (14) who make her life complete. A hard-working, fun-loving woman, she loves stylish clothes, particularly her trademark high heel shoes. Asked how she has accomplished so much despite the obvious odds, Cookie replies with a smile, “I never knew I was not supposed to.”

    Dedication Ceremony at the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum

    Cookie is her mother’s child in every sense of the word. Like Mary, she is dedicated to helping anyone in need. “I am a Village child,” she says, referring to the concept that it takes an entire community to raise a child. She feels a tremendous responsibility to give back and views her work as an opportunity to pay forward in a cycle of goodness. One example is TAPS, a club Cookie started at Myrtle Beach High School to raise awareness of prejudice and stereotypes. With other Guidance staff members, she is constantly on the look-out for students in need of physical or emotional support. Recently, concerns have arisen over an increasing number of students documented to be virtually on their own. Without any parental support, they courageously continue to stay in school despite tremendous odds. Remarkably, last year, of the seven MBHS identified students, five graduated high school. Of those five, four are now in college, three of those on scholarships, and one is in the military.

    As if in preparation for this moment, Cookie, for years, has had a secret vision of opening a permanent shelter for students such as these who need a nurturing place to live, a place she named Hope House. It was a dream she shared with no one because it seemed so impossible. However, increasing public awareness in the Myrtle Beach community has brought together a core group of educators, private citizens and public officials who are working to make it a reality. Tears well in Cookie’s eyes as she reflects: “If God is in it, it will be.”

    For Mary Canty and Mary “Cookie” Canty Goings, life has indeed come full circle. Both women have dedicated themselves to seeing life as it should be, a dream they each pass forward to the next generation. One blessed recipient of that dream is their own 15 year-old Whitney Goings, who on January 20, attended the historic 2009 Presidential Inauguration with a group of Myrtle Beach High School classmates. Thanks to the courage and caring of Mary, Cookie and many like-minded heroes, for Whitney, and her generation, the future is truly one filled with limitless possibilities.

    The Myrtle Beach Historic Colored School Museum is open Monday-Thursday. Call 918-1050 for more information. To learn more about the Hope House project, contact mgoings@horrycountyschools.net.

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