EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the third installment of a four-story February series dedicated to people and/or places key to Black history in Effingham County.
RINCON — Renty Solomon’s school bus was always loaded. Every nook and cranny not taken up by students was filled by his kindness and concern for others.
“He was a man of good character,” said 95-year-old Ernestine Hunter, a former teacher who recalled Solomon transporting students to and from schools in the Clyo area several decades ago.
Fondly remembered as “Mr. Renty,” Solomon (1903-1978) is believed to be the first Black man to own a school bus in Effingham County. Before acquiring a 1940s model from Blue Bird Body Company in Fort Valley, he hauled students in a pickup truck that featured an awning over the bed.
Mr. Renty’s life is being researched by his great-grandson, Dr. William Johnson, a former Clyo resident who currently resides in College Park, Maryland. He discovered some of his information via ancestry.com.
“He was actually a farmer,” Johnson said. “In the mornings, he would drive the kids to school, go back and farm, and then return to pick them up and take them home. Then he would go back to the farm and farm some more.”
Mr. Renty, whose farming/logging operation was large and successful, was persuaded to buy a bus by his wife, Hanna Goldwire Solomon.
“She said, ‘If you are going to haul these kids, you need to do it right,’” Johnson explained. “They paid for that bus in cash. (A Blue Bird representative) said it cost a couple thousand dollars.”
Johnson was surprised to learn that his great-grandparents were able to purchase the bus outright.
“My cousin got on me for thinking they probably had to buy the bus secondhand,” Johnson said. “That’s what I thought simply because of that time.”
Before the advent of the pickup brigade and subsequent buses, most Black students attended school for only three or four grades. A high school education wasn’t available for Black students in Effingham County until Springfield Central opened in 1956.
“Once they got the bus, that opened the level of attainment to around the eighth grade,” Johnson said. “Once they got there, many of them would go to Savannah and live with a relative or a church member (to finish high school). A lot of them graduated from Beach High School down there.”
Mr. Renty’s route included the Reidsville Road, Taylor Chapel and Clyo areas. Francis Polite Hamlin, now a resident of Charlotte, N.C., rode his bus to Springfield Central High School.
“I had to walk when I attended Clyo Elementary School,” the 1963 graduate said. “It was about three miles.”
Hamlin said the daily trek on foot wasn’t too bad of an ordeal but she was glad when Mr. Renty’s bus saved her from it.
“It would be (difficult to walk three miles) today,” she said with a laugh. “And it wasn’t much fun then when it was cold and raining.”
Rena Solomon, a 1961 Springfield Central High School graduate, didn’t ride Mr. Renty’s bus. She is very familiar with him, however, as she married into his family.
“He loved people and he loved being with the kids,” she said. “That was his joy — to bring the kids back and forth from school all those years.”
Rena Solomon rode a bus piloted by Wyatt Goldwire in the Berryville area. He owned the chassis and the Effingham County Board of Education purchased a body to cover it.
“I remember that my older brother and sister had to walk to school,” she said. “By the time I got old enough to go, we were riding in the back of a pickup truck (when I started the first grade). That was a long time ago.”
Like Mr. Renty and Goldwire, Transford Johnson hauled children in a pickup at one time.
“It sounds like it was a coordinated effort (to transport students),” Dr. Johnson said. “It was not something that (Renty Solomon) did on his own. When he started with the bus, Wyatt Goldwire did the Berryville route.”
Without question, Mr. Renty’s bus helped broaden the horizons of Black children in Effingham County.
“Down in Clyo, we didn’t even know what a beach was,” she said. “We had never seen one until he took us there.”
Mr. Renty’s bus was constantly on the move, even when classes weren’t in session.
“After he got the bus, he carried us on field trips every summer,” Hamlin said. “He carried us to Hilton Head. It was like a community affair.
“He carried us to 4-H Camp, too. Anything that Blacks at that time needed, he was always available for us.”
Rena Solomon echoed those sentiments.
“He did all those things,” she said. “When I was young, that’s how a lot of people got to go to Hilton Head Island to the beach all those years. He was awesome.”
Mr. Renty, succeeded as the driver of his bus by his daughter, Mildred Solomon Johnson, also transported Springfield Central’s athletes to their games. Hamlin, a current resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, was a member of its 1963 state championship basketball team.
“We were the first state championship team in Effingham County,” she said. “We went all the way to Dublin, Georgia.”
Rena Solomon said Mr. Renty’s efforts to enhance the lives of others weren’t limited to his school bus.
“He was just that kind of man to help anybody, to give to anybody,” she said. “He was just a really gracious man.”
She added that Goldwire, her bus driver and the grandfather of Dr. Franklin Goldwire, the first principal at South Effingham High School, was cut from the same cloth as Mr. Renty.
“You don’t find patriots like that nowadays,” she said. “They were dedicated to doing whatever they had to do. They were beautiful people in the church and they were beautiful people in the community.
“You just don’t find that anymore hardly.”