Abelle Nivens was powerful force in education

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Abelle Palmore Nivens, a teacher who retired in 1978 from Aiken County public schools after having taught for 43 years, relinquished her post from public education to advance the mission of her mother, Minnie Palmore.

Mrs. Palmore, who started a private kindergarten program after having taught in Aiken County for 50 years, taught until she was 97 years old. Her vision suddenly became severely impaired in one eye as 68 children sat at her knee. She had taught the community's children for 81 years (10 years beyond the time that her daughter would serve). She died at the age of 101.

Her parents had migrated from Macon, Ga., after the emancipation of slaves. Mrs. Palmore held the rare distinction of being a certified teacher under a South Carolina law that originated in the late 1800s.

In accordance with that law, she had to meet the scrutiny of the local board of examiners (today known as the Aiken County Board of Education) to be acknowledged and paid as a licentiate.

Ms. Nivens' father, A.H. Palmore, was from Edgefield County. He was one of the founders of Freedmen School in Graniteville and sat on its first board of trustees. He and several other interested residents secured a donation to start a school from a foundation that endeavored to extend the mission of the old Freedmen Bureau.

No need to ponder the force that drove Ms. Nivens, who died April 4 at the age of 92, to become the teacher that she became. The educational advancement of others was deeply rooted in the origin of her existence.

She stormed into a Wall Street office in her early years as a principal-teacher to request a new building to replace the old plantation school near Allendale. She often appeared audaciously and with tenacity before school officials (including this writer) to discuss education-related issues.

In 1989, South Carolina State University honored Ms. Nivens with an honorary doctorate for her contributions to education. She declared that she was going to teach boys and girls as long as the Lord would allow her, and she was firm about that.

She believed in reading instruction. Her philosophy:

"If a child had enough mentality to talk and walk, he could learn to read."

Until a few years ago, Ms. Nivens would put a load of youngsters into her car every year and drive them to my office to have them read to me. The children could read anything placed in front of them. She would select books from my shelves and instruct the children to read.

I became a student of her methodology in the early 1990s and became a teacher of reading. Her tutelage inspired the writing of one of my books.

Today, we needn't wonder what Abelle Nivens is doing. Perhaps she is comparing notes on the latest advancements in reading instruction with her mother, Mrs. Palmore.

One thing is for sure: Around her is a large group of children waiting to recite some long literary piece by Langston Hughes. Some are waiting to be called on to read from a book that is several years beyond their academic age.

Good night, Abelle Nivens. The greatest honor to be bestowed on you could no longer be delayed. We will see you in the morning.

Dr. Frank Roberson is an educator and writer.


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