A historically black primary, secondary, and normal school located in Chester, Brainerd Institute was one of the first educational institutions for newly freed African Americans following the Civil War. Under the guidance of the Freedmen’s Bureau, E. E. Richmond, a white woman from New York City, opened a school in a log cabin on the abandoned Brawley Plantation just outside of Chester. The school soon moved inside city limits, with Richmond and Carolyn I. Kent of New Jersey providing instruction. Typical of Freedmen’s Bureau-sponsored schools, the institute offered classes during the day, at night, and on Sunday for both former slaves and poor whites. The school would become atypical in later years, however, by emphasizing a liberal arts education rather than the industrial and agricultural arts stressed at most African American institutions.
With the end of the Freedmen’s Bureau, the school found a new sponsor in the Board of Missions of the New York Presbyterian Church. Reverend Samuel Loomis, sent by the board, joined with Richmond and Kent to offer religious and educational instruction. Loomis named the school Brainerd Mission in honor of George Brainerd, a pioneer missionary to Native Americans. The Brainerd school experienced steady growth, teaching an average of 145 pupils per year in grades one through ten. In 1888 it moved to DeGraffenried Place, a ten-acre site in Chester. The institute gained its first black leader, J. D. Martin, in 1928. Brainerd Junior College opened in 1934 to train teachers. Both institutions closed in 1939, citing increased public school opportunities for blacks and financial strains. The actress Phylicia Rashad, daughter of an alumna, purchased the former campus in 1997 and began restoration work on the only surviving building, Kumler Hall.
Purvis, Michelle Dawn Gammon. “The Brainerd Institute: An Example of the Contributions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. to African- American Education.” Constance B. Schulz Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.