Supper Table Spotlight: Jennifer Bartell Writes about Elizabeth Evelyn Wright

We’re featuring the artists from the Supper Table project throughout the summer. This is the 13th in our series on Supper Table Artists

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Jennifer Sharain Bartell is a poet and educator, currently teaching at Spring Valley High School in Columbia. She has a BA in English Literature Creative Writing from Agnes Scott College and an MFA in Poetry from the University of South Carolina. Though she loves all forms of creative writing, poetry is her home. She has had literary work published in Jasper Magazine, The Texas Review, and Pluck!: The Affrilachian Journal of Arts and Culture, among others. Bartell is passionate about quality education and equality for all students in South Carolina. You can view her work at


Bartell was tasked with writing a creative non-fiction essay on Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, a remarkable late 19th century Black woman and educator whose desire to share her passion of knowledge with others never faltered. Bartell writes with painfully true poeticism on how Wright walked from church to church to receive funding for her schools, about how unnamed and un-prosecuted individuals set fire to nearly all of Wright’s schools, and how she still rose above these flames and founded the school we know now as Voorhees College. Bartell writes:

The school was burned. The fire sheriff did not investigate and said the fire was due to a faulty chimney. She went back to Tuskegee to complete her studies, graduated, and returned to Hampton County to establish a school. That school was burned. Next, lumber she intended to use to build a new school building was burned. Her intentions were to build a school for Black people, run by Black people, and supported by Black people.

Her plan was for young men who worked in the fields by day to learn in the school at night. Those young men whose hands picked cotton and cropped tobacco for a few cents a day came at night to pick up a book to gain knowledge.

Her faith commanded her to walk on and so she had her eyes set on an old mill between Cummings and Early Branch. She was going to transform it into a school. Before she could even have her first class in the mill, it was reduced to ashes.

The school was burned. The passive voice lies so well. The school was burned. As if it had lit the match and tossed it on itself. White racist arsonists burned those schools. Ignorance and hate burned those schools. It was prejudice in the hands of white men who burned the schools. It was an unabashed effort to uphold the laws of their ancestors: Keep Blacks illiterate and without knowledge.

She did not fear the fire and did not sit in the ashes of these moments. Instead she used them as motivation. Educating Black children in South Carolina was and still is revolution. Especially since poor white children weren’t getting an education at this time either.

To read Bartell’s full essay on Wright, as well as our other 11 essays, purchase a copy of our book Setting the Supper Table, which launches on Friday, September 6th at Trustus Theatre as part of the premiere of the Supper Table installation, performance, and film premieres. The book will be available via a limited-edition printing for $25 at this event, and tickets are available online now and selling fast: