Born five years before the Civil War as the daughter of an enslaved cook, little Emma Wilson wanted to go to school with her white friends. She was told she couldn’t because of her race, and after the Civil War she was told she couldn’t because she was a girl. Through her determination, she kept pace with the class outside of school. When the time finally came that she could attend school, she was placed within her grade.
Wilson’s commitment to education and her great desire to assist others of her locale and race made her change her plans from ministering in Africa to building a local school in her hometown of Maysville, South Carolina. The school began in the kitchen of her mother’s cabin in 1885. It quickly grew and was incorporated as the Maysville Industrial and Educational Institute. After a few years Wilson became committed to teaching not only liberal arts, but also skills such as blacksmithing, sewing, and cooking.