Discussion continues to rage around Nikki Haley and the removal of the confederate flag from South Carolina’s State House grounds. Nicholas Kristof wrote an opinion about it day before yesterday in the New York Times: Tearing Down the Confederate Flag Is Just a Start.1 Yes, it is definitely only a start.
This controversy has come up because of Dylann Roof’s slaughter of nine people in SC. But… Sixteen hours after killing nine people inside a Charleston, South Carolina, church, 21-year-old Dylann Roof was treated to a free meal from Burger King by the Shelby, North Carolina, police officers who arrested him. Now imagine this: a black guy goes into a white church and guns down nine white people. When the police catch him they take him to Burger King for a free meal. As if. (Although it would make a great SNL Burger King ad.)
In Maryland, Freddie Gray (who did not kill nine people) was arrested for what the police alleged was an illegal switchblade, fell into a coma in the police van, and died of spinal injuries. In New York, Eric Garner (who did not kill nine people) was being arrested on suspicion of selling single cigarettes (single cigarettes!!!), was put in a choke hold and died. In South Carolina, Walter Scott (who did not kill nine people) was shot eight times (!!!) in the back when he ran away after a traffic stop. In Ohio, Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy (who did not kill nine people) was fatally shot by a police officer over a toy gun. Guess the race of Dylann Roof, of Freddie Gray, of Eric Garner, of Walter Scott, of Tamir Rice. Something is wrong with this picture (and it’s not just in SC).
Sure, the US of A has made a few advances. Everyone loves Oprah. Obama was elected twice as the most important leader on our planet. MLK has his own holiday. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela (and our Prez) were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Then there are all of the sports stars, authors (how many of Toni Morrison’s have you read?), movie stars – Morgan Freeman even played God!
On the other hand, Shrom Thurmond, who had been a (white) South Carolina senator, had fathered a child with a 16-year-old black maid – how Old South. So a statue of him stands on the grounds of the South Carolina State Capitol as well as one in the town square of Edgefield, South Carolina (where a high school was also named after him). President Bush Gave him a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Buildings are named after him at the University of South Carolina, Charleston Southern University, and Winthrop University; these universities are in South Carolina, of course, and nobody there cares if a white guy who said,
I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.
had sex with a black teenager, who then had a child. (Hit that clip to hear him.) It wasn’t until six months after Thurmond’s death (at the age of 100), that Essie Mae Washington-Williams publicly revealed that she was his daughter. BTW – he started that affair with Carrie Butler in 1924, when miscegenation was a felony. (No big deal for a white guy, but Emmett Till, a 14-tear-old black kid, was mutilated and murdered for just whistling at a white woman in 1941 in Mississippi.)
In 1967, 17 Southern states (all the former slave states plus Oklahoma) still enforced laws prohibiting marriage between whites and non-whites. After the ruling of the Supreme Court, the remaining laws were no longer in effect. Nonetheless, it took South Carolina until 1998… to officially amend state constitutions to remove language prohibiting miscegenation.
For a few years I lived in Greenville, South Carolina, one of the Ten Least Segregated Metropolitan Areas in 20102 (as well as Tucson). Greenville’s index of 43.6 means that it is moderately segregated, that about four out of 10 black residents would need to move to another Greenville neighborhood to be distributed throughout the metro area in the same way as whites.
But the center of most everyone’s life there was The Church (and this was not just Sunday, but almost every day of the week, with activities for the kids, prayer sessions, bible study classes, and so on), and I’ll bet all 33 of them were segregated. In spite of the fact that the Southern Baptists, who …didn’t formally apologize for its stand on slavery until 1995, think that it’s a good idea to integrate. “Right now, 11 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America.”3
When I was there, got to know about the 2007 documentary, Corridor of Shame: the neglect of South Carolina’s rural schools, an hour documentary that tells the story of the challenges faced in funding an adequate education in South Carolina’s rural school districts.4 If you don’t watch the entire film, at least watch this 9-minute segment:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjY69hO0fxk. Then read this article from February’s (2015) Charleston Chronicle, SC Legislators Continue To Deny Court-Ordered Education In “Corridor Of Shame”:
The South Carolina State Legislature’s efforts to appeal a state Supreme Court ruling mandating it provides the resources to rural schools in the state’s worst school districts indicate the general assembly will continue to do nothing to insure students in the predominantly Black schools of the “Corridor of Shame” receive a quality education…
The lawsuit to force the legislature to provide basic education to the schools was brought in 1993…5
Here are a few snippets from an interesting abbreviated history of integration of the schools: South Carolina’s Equalization Schools 1951-1960:
…Parents and other community leaders responded to school desegregation by creating private schools that could discriminate in accepting applications to attend. Prior to 1956, South Carolina had only 16 private schools. Between 1963 and 1975, almost 200 new private schools were created in the state. In some of the more rural, majority-African American counties in South Carolina, these schools enrolled over 90% of the white children in the public school system. Named “segregation academies,” these private schools continued segregation in education throughout South Carolina. In Clarendon County today, Summerton High School has an enrollment of 95% African American students, while the whites attend Clarendon Hall. Clarendon Hall only began accepting African American students in 2000.6
…The federal government forced South Carolina to dismantle its dual school system, where certain schools were predominately black or white, by the beginning of the 1970-1971 school year. Greenville and Darlington counties, under specific court cases, had to integrate their schools by the end of the 1969-1970 school system. This order led to protests and violence in Lamar, where a group of almost 200 white adults attacked and overturned a school bus full of black children. Over three thousand of Darlington County’s white students had boycotted school for weeks before the mob attack.7
Back then there were 200 private schools, today there are 449 private schools in South Carolina. Minority enrollment is 14% [9,298 minority kids, 57,113 white kids]. 78% of South Carolina private schools are religiously affiliated.8 I did a spot check on some of the religious schools – one was 100% black, but two others were actually integrated by color (33% minority for a Catholic school, 13% for a Christian), if segregated by religion. Plus poor people cannot afford private schools, so the well-to-do can send their kids to private school and vote down money for the Corridor of Shame schools. It’s also of interest that back when the schools were forcibly integrated, hardly any white kids got bussed, and many (substandard) black schools were closed.
Now I want to apologize to my friend L, who befriended me when I joined the Greenville chapter of the AAUW (American Association of University Women) for dissing her state. She is a marvelous person, as well as all of the women who I got to know in the AAUW book club (of which there was one black member). We read many books that did not shed a good light upon the history of the south, such as Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo, one of the nine black students to integrate Little Rock Central High in 1957. I would highly recommend it, even if you end up in tears. She…
…had acid thrown into her eyes and also recalled in her book… an incident in which a group of white girls trapped her in a stall in the girls’ washroom and attempted to burn her by dropping pieces of flaming paper on her from above.
See photo from the Little Rock integration below. Think we read The Help too. I just wish that all of South Carolina were as tolerant as those AAUW women. But I was only there for a few years, and unfortunately I met too many people who give Southerners a bad name.
6 In 2004, …95.5 percent of Summerton’s 1,230 public school students are black, mirroring the levels of minority concentrations seen in a growing number of schools nationwide. At Clarendon Hall, all but about 20 of its 275 students are white, reflecting the racial isolation experienced by most of America’s white students. http://people.hofstra.edu/alan_j_singer/202%20ISI%20Course%20pack/BX.ND.%20Brown.pdf