Civil Rights in Columbia

Pilgrimage will give Congressional leaders closer look at SC’s faith, civil rights history

Orangeburg civil rights photographer Cecil J. Williams photographed this rally at Zion Baptist Church in March 1963. State NAACP leaders J. Arthur Brown and the Rev. I. DeQuincey Newman are at the pulpit.
Orangeburg civil rights photographer Cecil J. Williams photographed this rally at Zion Baptist Church in March 1963. State NAACP leaders J. Arthur Brown and the Rev. I. DeQuincey Newman are at the pulpit. Provided photo by Cecil J. Williams

Friday is the start of a three-day Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage to South Carolina, exploring the role of faith and civil rights history in South Carolina.

A bipartisan delegation of 14 Congressional members, led by Democratic U.S. House Rep. Jim Clyburn and Republican U.S. Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, all of South Carolina, and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, will visit historical sites in Columbia, Orangeburg and Charleston as part of the event, presented by the Faith and Politics Institute. In all, about 200 will be part of the pilgrimage – students, seminarians, local leaders and faithful annual pilgrims.

Here, a look at some of the civil rights sites on the tour and some of what will be happening this weekend at each site.

Columbia

ZION BAPTIST CHURCH

Location: 801 Washington St.

History: Founded in 1865 in the aftermath of the Civil War, Zion Baptist Church became a spiritual home for newly freed blacks in Columbia and thrives to this day. It was started in a home on the 1400 block of Gadsden Street and moved in 1871 to its current location. Nearly a century later, during the turmoil of the 1960s, Zion, along with another downtown church, Bethel AME, became the heart of the movement to overturn segregation and eliminate the last vestiges of the oppressive system known as Jim Crow. More recently, it was a meeting place efforts to remove the Confederate flag from the S.C. State House dome and is the launching point for the annual King Day at the Dome march.

“Zion was the hub,” Isaac Washington, a deacon who participated in dozens of downtown civil rights protests as a student at Benedict College, once said. “If you protested, if you picketed, if you demonstrated, you didn’t even have to say, ‘Where are you going to meet at?’ Zion was it.”

This weekend: Congressional delegation members will hear a discussion on 1960s civil rights events in Columbia. They also will visit Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia.

Charleston

EMANUEL AME CHURCH

Location: 110 Calhoun St.

History: “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church was established about 1817 as the first AME-affiliated church in the South. At the time, it was common for blacks to attend white-run churches, where they were relegated to the balcony. Emanuel AME Church was formed when 4,000 black members of a Methodist church left after a place to store hearses was erected on a black burial ground. Denmark Vesey, was a founder of the church, which was later burned to the ground and then outlawed, forcing blacks to move underground to worship. In 1865, Emanuel was formally reorganized.

The church was the site of the racially motivated shooting of nine African Americans during a Bible study last June.

This weekend: Congressional delegation membres will attend a Sunday church service.

CIRCULAR CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH COURTYARD

Location: 150 Meeting St.

History: The congregation dates to 1681, when it was founded as the Independent Church of Charles Towne. Three church buildings – circa 1681, 1732 and 1806 – have stood on this site. The current building dates from 1891. The church’s graveyard is the oldest in the city, with interments dating to 1696.

This weekend: Congressional delegation members will visit the church and reflect on the shootings at Emanuel AME Church, and meet with survivors, victims’ families and others.

AVERY RESEARCH CENTER

Location: 125 Bull St.

History: The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, according to its web site, is on the site of the former Avery Normal Institute. It was a hub for Charleston’s African-American community from 1865-1954 that trained students for professional careers and leadership roles. Today, it is a museum of African American history and culture.

This weekend: The Congressional delegation will visit Avery and hear a discussion about the 1969 Charleston strike of more than 400 African-American hospital workers against the all-white administrations of Medical College and Charleston County hospitals. The strike started when a group of black nurses aides walked off the job after a white charge nurse refused to let them read patient charts, preventing them from doing their jobs. Some well-known civil rights figures, including Coretta Scott King, lent their support to the effort.

Orangeburg

TRINITY UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

Location: 185 Boulevard St.

History: Trinity served as headquarters for the Orangeburg Movement during the 1960s, serving as host to civil rights meetings and rallies attended by such prominent leaders as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall, according to the Times and Democrat. Trinity also was a headquarters of a counter boycott movement during the civil rights movement. Student activists from S.C. State University and Claflin College (now University) regularly gathered at the church with support from the congregation. The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.

S.C. STATE UNIVERSITY

Location: 300 College Street NE

History: S.C. State became a focal point of the civil rights movement with the Orangeburg Massacre, on Feb. 8, 1968. On that night, S.C. state troopers opened fire on a group of unarmed black college students at the edge of campus, killing three and wounding 27 others in the state’s most violent civil rights confrontation. The incident culminated three days of racial strife over the white-owned All Star Bowling Lanes’ refusal to admit black students to bowl.

CLAFLIN COLLEGE (UNIVERSITY)

Location: 400 Magnolia St.

History: Claflin, founded in 1869, offered for the first time in South Carolina higher education for men and women “regardless of race, complexion, or religious opinion.” Many of its students wereactive in the civil rights movement in Orangeburg.

This weekend: Congressional delegation members will hear a discussion, led by Clyburn, of student activism in the 1960s at Claflin and S.C. State University, participate in a wreath-laying at S.C. State and visit Claflin.

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