J.V. Martin Middle School

Dedication prompts talk of Obama visit

abeam@thestate.comSeptember 1, 2012 

The new J.V. Martin Middle School in Dillon County, a centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaign four years ago, has been told to expect a visitor from Washington, D.C., at its formal dedication on Thursday.

That’s the same day Obama will be in Charlotte to accept the Democratic nomination for president.

But Rick Wade, a South Carolina-native and senior adviser to Obama’s campaign, said the president is not scheduled to visit South Carolina.

“The schedule is fluid, but I don’t know that there is anything on the radar,” he said. “(The president) obviously is focused on battleground states as we move to (the election). Over the next four years, we are hopeful the schedule will allow him to visit South Carolina.”

First lady Michelle Obama and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett both visited Columbia in 2011. Michelle Obama spoke at a Fort Jackson graduation, and Jarrett spoke at a fundraiser at 701 Whaley. In May, Vice President Joe Biden attended a fundraiser in Charleston.

But the president has not visited South Carolina since Jan. 26, 2008 – when he captured 55 percent of the vote to win South Carolina’s Democratic presidential primary. Obama would go on to win the nomination in a close race over former first lady Hillary Clinton.

While campaigning in South Carolina, Obama toured the old J.V. Martin Middle School – which was built in 1896. The dilapidated building was featured prominently in the documentary film “Corridor of Shame,” highlighting inequities in school funding.

Three years ago, J.V. Martin 8th-grader Ty’Sheoma Bethea wrote a letter to Obama asking him to help build a new school. In his first address to Congress as president, Obama – looking at Bethea as she sat next to Michelle Obama in the U.S. Capitol – promised to do just that.

In January 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it was giving the school district a $23.5 million, low-interest loan for a new building.

“(Obama’s) office has been instrumental in helping us get this done,” says Ray Rogers, superintendent for the Dillon County School District. “I believe, if I was a betting person, that (Obama) would want to see the culmination of what he talked about and what he envisioned.”

But Rogers said Obama’s first visit nearly five years ago – when he was a U.S. senator – came with multiple security sweeps a week before the visit happened. This time, Rogers said the security checks have been light.

Bud Ferillo, a South Carolina Democratic political consultant who directed and produced the “Corridor of Shame,” said presidential visits often happen at the last minute for security reasons. That was the case in 1977, when Ferillo helped plan a visit by then-President Jimmy Carter to Charleston.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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