Beaufort County residents share African-American life experiences for national archive

08/17/2014 12:09 AM

08/17/2014 12:10 AM

Every day for more than a year in the late 1960s, Louis O’Neil Dore marched up and down Bay Street in protest.

Then a St. Helena High School teacher, he carried picket signs from Carteret Street to Charles Street, and back again, with co-workers and community members in a boycott of Beaufort stores that wouldn’t hire blacks and practiced segregation.

Dore, 69, shared that experience and others of African-American life with The History Makers, the nation’s largest African-American history archive, according to the Library of Congress, which announced in June it will serve as the collection’s permanent repository.

The collection includes more than 2,600 videotaped interviews with African-Americans across the country, capturing the struggles and triumphs of the black experience. Five other Beaufort County residents — Hilton Head Island natives Thomas Barnwell, Emory Campbell and Charles E. Simmons, and Hilton Head residents Marva Collins and Henry Ponder — were also interviewed and included in the collection.

Dore was recognized for the life he has spent engaged in his community and the fight for equality, a passion Dore has had since his teens.

While a student at Robert Smalls High School, in the late 50s Dore heard Benjamin E. Mays speak during an assembly. Mays was a mentor to Martin Luther King Jr., who gave the commencement speech at Dore’s graduation from Morehouse College in 1963.

Dore left Beaufort to earn his law degree from the University of Georgia and became managing partner of his own law firm — Dore Law Firm in Beaufort — in 1991.

Hilton Head Island resident Emory Campbell, 72, grew up just across the county from Dore. But life on the isolated island was vastly different from what Dore experienced in urbanized Beaufort.

In his interview, Campbell shares what life was like in the days before a bridge connected the island to the mainland, and how he learned to survive by using what the land and water yielded.

“You grew and caught what you ate,” Campbell said. “Most mainlanders lived a relatively urbanized life compared to us.”

Campbell was valedictorian of the Class of 1960 at Michael C. Riley High School in Bluffton. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Savannah State College and a masters from Tufts University in Boston.

Afterward, Campbell returned to the island. He built his home on Spanish Wells Road in 1974 on land his family has owned for four generations, next to the lot where his childhood home once stood.

He became the director of the Penn Center in 1980, and spearheaded efforts to connect the Gullahs in South Carolina with their relatives in West Africa. His book “Gullah Cultural Legacies,” a synopsis of Gullah traditions and language, was published in 2008.

Campbell now leads Gullah Heritage Trail Tours on Hilton Head.

Another Hilton Head native, Thomas Barnwell, was shocked when a researcher from The History Marker asked him to be a part of the collection in the mid-2000s.

He initially declined, feeling he did not belong among such in such a distinguished group — President Barack Obama, who was interviewed when he was an Illinois state senator, Army Gen. Colin Powell, child advocate and Bennettsville-native Marion Wright Eldeman, Maya Angelou and musician B.B. King among the notables.

But the organization persisted, insisting he was worthy because of his 1969 testimony before Congress. Barnwell and fellow community leader William Grant exposed the medical needs of Lowcountry residents — many of whom were suffering from malnutrition, intestinal parasites, rickets or scurvy — before the Committee on Nutrition and Hunger.

Barnwell also worked to secure affordable housing, health care and employment for Hilton Head Island natives. He worked as a community activist at Penn Center, as assistant director for Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Economic Opportunity Commission and executive director of Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services.

With his interview, Barnwell is thankful that part of Hilton Head’s history was recorded.

“Those who will come behind can see that Hilton Head produced persons who not only have sacrificed, but have given to service of mankind in a way that is meaningful and brought change,” Barnwell said.

Even today, Barnwell, now 79, can scarcely believe he’s part of The History Maker.

“I’m just a little fellow way out here from Hilton Head that’s part of a group of global giants,” he said. “And it’s just amazing.”

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