The Sy Williams Annual Award for Education, an award that benefits educational programs for Charleston middle and high school students, is increasing its award to $2,000, beginning this year. Individuals living or working in Charleston and north Mississippi County, including students with adult supervision, may apply for the award.
Applications for the award are available from the Susanna Wesley Family Learning Center in Charleston located at 601 W. Marshall Street in Charleston, or online at swflc.com (listed under “Programs”). Deadline for completed applications is April 1. The award will be presented in May. Applicants for the award must attend a short application-writing workshop which will be scheduled to meet the needs of participants.
The Sy Williams Award began in 2011. The award honors the memory of Sylas “Sy” Williams, a lifelong Charleston native. In his early years Williams and his family were enslaved by the Handy and the Moore families of Charleston. The Williams family and other enslaved laborers lived in eight two-room brick cabins located on the Handy farm just outside the city limits. Work activities included making bricks from clay removed from a pond on the farm. The bricks were then used to build the cabins where the enslaved workers lived as well as a bank building in Charleston. According to the 1860 U.S. Census, 1,010 enslaved Americans of African descent lived in Mississippi County. Williams died in 1943 at the age of 103.
Sy Williams was a respected member of the community, known affectionately to both Black and white residents of Charleston in his later years as “Uncle Sy.” Williams helped found Perry Chapel A.M.E. Church of Charleston and was a member of the church’s first Board of Trustees. Sy Williams Boulevard in Charleston, where the church is located, was renamed for Williams when the award was created. Williams’ daughter, Mary Hawkins, and his grand-daughter, Pauline Murphy, were lifelong educators in the Charleston school system.
Previous Sy Williams awards have supported a variety of educational programs, including an after-school arts program, a church-based program that employed youth during the summer, and programs and new equipment at Charleston Middle School.
Sy Williams Award assembly Hunter Moore holds up part of a brick during an assembly at Charleston Middle School on February 18. The brick was made by Sy Williams and other enslaved workers on a farm just outside of Charleston. Williams and his family were owned by Moore’s ancestors.