Look Up and On! The amazing Mrs. Ruby Forsythe, most inspiring African-American teacher in South Carolina

“Miss Ruby sat in her chair and looked at the children. There were two Little Ones asleep on the floor at her feet. I don’t believe I have ever seen such a look of contentment on anyone’s face. Not just content with the day, but with the school, with her life, with herself. Miss Ruby had no doubt about who she was or what she did. She respected herself” – Margueritte Worth Parks, Author.

What better way to celebrate Black History Month than with a tribute to Ruby Middleton Forsythe, a formidable teacher, mentor and inspiration to thousands of children in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The Rice Museum in Georgetown features an impressive exhibit dedicated to prominent local African-American heroes. Museum admission is $7 adults, $3 children 6-17, and free for those under 6.

About Miss Ruby (all quotes, pictures and biography are from the museum exhibits)
Ruby Middleton Forsythe was born on June 27, 1905, in Charleston.

The story of Miss Ruby Middleton Forsythe

Listening to Miss Ruby

She attended Avery Institute for grammar and high school and received her BS from South Carolina State College. She started her teaching career in 1924 in Mount Pleasant.

She became a teacher at Holy Cross Memorial School in 1931. Her husband, the late Reverend William Essex Forsythe, was in charge of Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Church and School on Pawley’s Island.

Miss Ruby taught in the one room school for 53 years. The school came to be known as “Miss Ruby’s School”…When it closed in June 2000, it was the oldest one room school in the United States!

During her lifetime, Miss Ruby earned four honorary degrees: from South Carolina State College, Winthrop College, The University of South Carolina at Sewanee, and the University of South Carolina at Coastal Carolina.

Miss Ruby’s philosophy

African American heroes of the 20th century

Mrs Ruby is a nice lady. She is the best teacher a black child could have - quote from a student

“The school teacher today has to be mother, father, counselor, everything. The majority of the children have nobody to sit down with them to teach them the little things that are right from the little things that are wrong.

Sometimes I have to stop the class, close the book and sit down and say, “Let’s talk,” because their parents just don’t have the time.”

“You must start with the little ones. When they reach 5 years old, you should already have laid the blocks, for them to climb on. If you wait until after 5, you are going to have a harder time.”

“Now, if we can get them to built within themselves, at an early age an esteem of themselves, a bit of independence, dependability, and a desire not to be dependent on someone else, not to be the tail end, as I tell them all the time.

They have it, they can do it, if they only try.”

Miss Ruby’s school was a community affair
School began at 9AM with the ringing of the school bell.

Pawleys Island historic black one room school

Saved by the bell...

Many children arrived as early as 7AM as their parents went off to work. When Miss Ruby came down the stairs from her apartment, the children rushed in to give her money for snacks or the ambulance jar. Miss Ruby spoke with every child as they entered the school.

The children worked hard to impress Miss Ruby and even begged for longer reading assignments. Volunteers came to school to teach music and help individual students.

The students themselves taught each other. Older students would guide the younger children, freeing Miss Ruby to give individual attention to students who needed extra help.

The school received strong parental support, who consider it privilege to send their children to Miss Ruby’s class. The waiting list was often long. Many students were the children of former graduates. The parents were in charge of the financial affairs of the school, cleaned the school, raised money for textbooks, created bulletin boards, and even cut the yard. Some took home papers to grade.

Please and Thank You

Holy Cross Memorial Faith Episcopal School artifacts

Please and Thank You

Miss Ruby expected here students to behave. They were required to say please and thank you and yes ma’am and no ma’am.

“That’s right, I just look at them, boy I just pick up my paddle, that’s all and do this clump, yes sir” said Miss Ruby. A few smacks with the paddle were given here and there, but the embarrassment was much greater than the hurt.

Bad words produced “the bottle”, a mixture of peroxide, Listerine and water (sometimes she will use horseradish powder and Tabasco).

“They think they’re going to die. That peroxide starts working with that water and then all these white bubbles start coming down and I won’t let it spit it out. They start crying right off as soon as they see me getting’ the bottle. That’ll cure all bad language.”

Her spirit lives on…
“When I see my product leave and accomplish something worthwhile, then it gives me the urge to try to do a little bit more for a few more. I see the need of these children today. That’s the only reason I’m holding on, but I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna hold on”.

Ms. Ruby Forsythe picture

A pillar of strength, love and inspiration

Miss Ruby died in 1992 on graduation day. During her 70 plus years of teaching career she had only missed 5 months, when she was pregnant with her son.

“Not one newspaper nor TV news showed…people – black and white – arms around each other, with tears singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” following Miss Ruby to her final resting place. You could feel the love. She has brought us all together – How powerful! What a statement! And the coverage missed it – every one of them!”
Nives Kelly, Pawleys Island resident

“Never say I can’t, always say I’ll try” – Miss Ruby Middleton Forsythe