January 24, 2013
Though its role has never been widely recognized, Columbia was a significant factor in shaping the American Civil Rights Movement, which reached its height in 1963. As part of a multi-city collaboration, Columbia is launching an initiative that will reconstruct forgotten events and exhibit rarely or never-before-seen images in order to piece together a more complete telling of Columbia and South Carolina’s place in the struggle.
“This is our opportunity to connect our city’s past, present and future,” said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. “This is our chance to create a lasting legacy where men and women like Sarah Mae Flemming, Modjeska Simkins, the Honorable Matthew Perry and Ernest Finney, Robert Anderson, Henrie Monteith and James Solomon take their rightful place alongside Rosa Parks, James Merideth and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as true American heroes who made it possible for us to join together here today as equals free from fear and violence.”
“I commend Mayor Benjamin and the City of Columbia for dedicating 2013 to commemorating the important civil rights events that took place here 50 years ago,” said Congressman Jim Clyburn. “As a participant in some of those activities, I look forward to participating in some of these commemorations. Hopefully these events will help generations that didn’t live during the 1960s understand and appreciate those activities and their impact on South Carolina and the nation.”
With direction from a group of community leaders, today will kick off a year of events tailored to focus on specific stories and happenings that took place during this pivotal time in our nation’s history.
“Shedding light on the profound events that occurred in this city during the Civil Rights Movement is imperative,” said co-chair and University of South Carolina History Professor, Dr. Bobby Donaldson. “This is an opportunity to understand how the bold actions of students and the courageous decisions of leaders in our own city helped to transform the nation.”
The early 1960s proved to be critical years for the Civil Rights Movement in Columbia, S.C. Student sit-ins and marches, a landmark court case and the integration of the University of South Carolina marked a sea of change in the community.
“We have lost many of Columbia’s great leaders of that era – Matthew Perry, I. DeQuincey Newman, Modjeska Simkins, Sarah Mae Fleming and Milton Greene, just to name a few,” said Congressman Clyburn. “But those of us who survive believe that sharing our stories and theirs will help ensure we never lose sight of our hard won rights and remain vigilant in protecting them.”
Fifty years later we look back on the well-documented happenings, as well as the untold stories of the Movement.
“In addition to revisiting historic accounts of Columbia in the 1960s, this initiative will allow us to work with those who participated in the Movement and more fully understand their roles,” said co-chair and Executive Director of Historic Columbia Foundation, Robin Waites. “From there we will have the tools to develop public programs and tours that open the doors for visitors and locals alike to explore our Civil Rights story.”
A website, ColumbiaSC63.com, also launching today, will provide a calendar of events and programs, offer an overview of the history and Columbia’s place in it, present newly uncovered photos and, over the course of the next year, continue to expand and grow as Columbia residents, past and present, share their own stories of struggle and change from the time.
In addition, as one of the cities collaborating on the 50 Years Forward project, Columbia, along with Birmingham, AL, Selma, AL, Montgomery, AL, Memphis, TN and Jackson, MS, will host a traveling exhibit featuring memorabilia from this time period from all of the participating cities.
“We hope to awaken hearts and enlighten minds with this project,” said Waites. “It is not just a few people’s history or story. It’s our history and our story.”