Hattie Logan Duckett

From an early age, Hattie Logan Duckett felt that her mission in life was to help uplift those people who were less fortunate. The fruits of their remarkable efforts can be seen today in the activities of the Phillis Wheateley Association, which as played a vital role in providing welfare services to the people of Greenville, South Carolina, for more than 75 years. Duckett was only 23 when she founded the Phillis Wheatley Center in 1919. Born in 1896, she attended school in Greenville before beginning her higher education at Claflin College, South Carolina, and Hampton Institute, Virginia. She also attended Chicago Recreational School, New York School of Social Work, Northwestern University and Columbia University. Upon completing her studies she moved to Florida with her husband and, after his death, she returned to Greenville to teach. Duckett’s initial concern was to find a way to offer African-American girls in Greenville the opportunity to develop and grow into good citizens. She began by offering classes on self improvement, on Bible studies and on sewing from a small six-room house in Greenville. Her work began to attract attention and with the financial assistance of Thomas Parker, a prominent local mill executive, the Phillis Wheatley Center was created. Within a short time, Duckett had 30 young girls as students. The first venture of the center was a dinner which yielded a net profit of 35 cents. A large building was erected in 1924 and Duckett was able to expand her horizons. This new facility, containing a library and a nursery, offered the African-American community of Greenville a wide range of activities, including sewing classes, scout troop meetings, choral groups and the YMCA and the YWCA. The Phillis Wheatley Center has been indispensable to the city of Greenville during times of crisis and change. In the depression years of the 1930’s, it housed the Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which was established to distribute welfare relief to the poverty-stricken and needy. During the Second World War, it became a recreation center for servicemen stationed at the nearby Donaldson Air Force Base. The center changed its name to the Phillis Wheatley Association because of the broader outreach of the association. Duckett died in 1956 but the movement that she created continued to diversify. As segregation’s barriers crumbled in the 1960’s, the association provided classes and seminars to help African-Americans to prepare to enter job markets that had previously been closed to them. When Greenville County’s schools were desegregated in 1970, the executive director of the association worked closely with school officials to make desegregation as smooth as possible. The center also offered the first Big Brothers/Big Sisters program in Greenville. Having moved to a new building with more modern facilities in 1977, the Phillis Wheatley Association offers programs in senior citizen nutrition, general recreation, primary prevention of alcohol and drug abuse, leadership development, mental health, and job skills development and training. It has become a multipurpose human service agency which has touched the lives of thousands thanks to the pioneering efforts of Hattie Logan Duckett.