Many thanks to People to People, a local human relations organization, and all the participants in the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday celebration on Sunday, January 18, 2015.
The program featured a new film, Freedom Ain’t Free, by Columbia director Mr. Gene Robinson, who was present and served on a panel with Mr. Jabari Clyburn, a student at the University of South Carolina; Dr. Burnett Gallman, a physician in Columbia; Ms. Darnell McPherson, executive director of Darlington County First Steps to School Readiness and an important activist on behalf of children in South Carolina; and me. Touching opening remarks were made by the Hon. Gerald Malloy, state senator representing much of Darlington County, and the panel was moderated by former state senator Maggie Wallace Glover of Florence, the only African American woman so far to serve in that body and currently an administrator at Morris College in Sumter. The Hon. James H. Lucas, the new speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives, who also happens to represent the Hartsville area, made very effective closing remarks. Mr. Mal Hyman, assistant professor of sociology at Coker College, was the very able master of ceremonies.
The documentary Freedom Ain't Free examines the stories of several under-recognized civil rights heroes, including South Carolinians George Elmore, the Columbia businessman who challenged the state’s whites-only Democratic Party primary in the 1940s; and Rev. J. A. De Laine, the Clarendon County minister who organized local families in a series of legal measures that culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board decision striking down the “separate but equal” doctrine. I was particularly impressed with the really touching and informative interviews with members of their families and with the period photographs, some of which were new to me. It leaves me wondering, who is the documentary filmmaker who will bring each of these riveting stories appropriately to life on the screen?
The film’s treatment of the subject of lynching—particularly the question of the generational effects of racial violence—let me to mention, impromptu, during my comments the possibility of a truth and reconciliation commission to help us bring to light the traumas of South Carolina’s Jim Crow era. This model has helped other societies around the world face ugly aspects of their past for the sake of excising collective wounds and establishing a full public record. It could be a useful tool for South Carolina, too.
The location for the event also deserves a mention. Butler Community Center in the South Hartsville neighborhood was a public high school for black students for the better part of a century. When it was closed in 1983 it was serving as a junior high school—a victim, I suspect, of the widespread “demotion” of black high schools after statewide desegregation in 1970-1971. An organization of alumni and other community members acquired and renovated the facility, which serves a variety of functions today. It was my first visit to Butler, and I was truly impressed with the beauty of the auditorium space, the former administration building of the campus which was renovated and repurposed in 2012.
Congratulations to People to People for an excellent, well-attended event, and to the Hartsville community for the preservation and continued appropriate use of the Butler campus, a real asset for the whole population!
Photos courtesy Jannie Harriot