January 4, 2014

New ETV film aims to foster racial reconciliation in SC

The monument called “Reconciliation” memorializes two Kershaw County natives – African-American baseball Hall of Fame member Larry Doby, and Jewish financier and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch – in one of Camden’s squares.

The monument called “Reconciliation” memorializes two Kershaw County natives – African-American baseball Hall of Fame member Larry Doby, and Jewish financier and presidential adviser Bernard Baruch – in one of Camden’s squares.

At the March ceremony unveiling the bronze sculptures, the sound of African drums and a band playing “Dixie” shared the same space, celebrating how much the men achieved despite racial and religious intolerance. The moment showed how far Americans have come since Doby’s and Baruch’s time, said Camden attorney John Rainey, whose idea it was to memorialize the two figures.

Now, Rainey and ETV are producing a documentary film that will tell the story of Camden’s two native sons, adding to it commentary about racial reconciliation from S.C. civil rights leaders, scholars and emerging community leaders.

The hope of the documentary is to inspire a statewide conversation about reconciliation, positioning South Carolina to become “the birthplace of the modern reconciliation movement,” said Rainey.

“Reconciliation is the critical step – the final step in the process – of the healing of America from the wound first inflicted” by slavery, said Rainey, whose ancestors include a secessionist and Confederate soldiers.

And, he adds, the story of Camden’s native sons is a great place for the documentary to start.

Doby, a baseball Hall of Fame member, was the first African American to play in the American League. After playing in the Negro National League, he went on to play for the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers.

Baruch, whose family moved to New York City when he was 10, was a millionaire by age 30 and adviser to several presidents during a time when anti-Semitism was common in U.S. politics.

Today, Doby’s likeness stands in a town square near the Camden Archives and Museum. Baruch’s sculpture sits a few paces away on a park bench – an apt setting for Baruch, known for holding meetings on park benches.

Rainey sees the ETV documentary that will start with their story as planting a seed that will grow into a deliberate exploration of South Carolina’s racial history and move toward racial reconciliation.

Americans have made “substantial progress” in race relations since ending the Jim Crow era of segregation, Rainey acknowledges. “(But) desegregation and reconciliation are just not the same thing.”

“Reconciliation has to be approached very consciously and very openly, and it requires dialogue over time that is very focused on achieving the goal of, at least, white people admitting what history has really taken place in South Carolina, and black people being willing to forgive,” said ETV producer Betsey Newman.

“It’s pretty heavy stuff.”

Model for reconciliation?

Rainey and Newman say a model for how South Carolina might approach racial reconciliation lies in the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation, a Mississippi nonprofit whose mission is fostering reconciliation in that state’s communities.

Named after former Mississippi Gov. William Winter, an advocate for public education and racial reconciliation, the institute’s programs focus on adults and youths.

Groups from Mississippi communities ask the institute for assistance with reconciliation-related projects. The process requires a two-year commitment and takes place in three stages, said the institute’s April Grayson, who coordinates the program called the Welcome Table.

The institute first guides community members through relationship and trust-building exercises that “don’t always, but often, involve race,” Grayson said. Next, the groups design and carry out community-service projects. In the final step, the groups drive an effort to create a community “equity plan ... recognizing local policies that have created inequitable conditions, and engaging power holders to transform those policies into equitable policies.”

A youth summer camp at the Winter Institute encourages relationship building, civic engagement and leadership through programs built around the state’s civil rights history and visits to sites where racial violence has occurred. “We want them to know that the state is more than what we think of it,” said Melody Frierson, coordinator of youth projects.

Later this month, an ETV film crew will travel to Mississippi for a Martin Luther King Day event. ETV also hopes to interview former Gov. Winter, Newman said.

Reconciliation in South Carolina

The process of racial reconciliation in South Carolina should be “not just a discussion about race. It’s a discussion of poverty, power and access” to education, good jobs and health care, said Bobby Donaldson, a University of South Carolina history and African-American studies professor who was interviewed for the ETV documentary, slated to air across the state and nation later this year.

A productive conversation will require “folks who are willing to put themselves out there,” Donaldson said. All too often, he added, people choose the history they want to remember.

“Nostalgia is a substitute for real history,” the USC professor said. “We blur the facts, we select certain chapters of the history that we want to uplift.”

An example, Donaldson said, is the controversy over the Confederate flag, which once flew on the S.C. State House dome and was moved, following a bitter fight, to the State House grounds, where it now flies near a statue of a Confederate soldier.

The version of history that sees the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage is “not a complete history of how the flag was used, intentionally, to marginalize African Americans,” Donaldson said. “When African Americans look at the flag, they see a very different state,” one in which their ancestors were enslaved.

“The progress of this state means that we have to move beyond our history,” Donaldson said. “But the only way to (do that) is through a more honest understanding of what that past is.”

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