June 28, 2013
This morning, Columbia SC 63, a collaboration between the city of Columbia, Historic Columbia Foundation, the University of South Carolina and Columbia Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), unveiled a street sign at the intersection of Main and Washington streets in downtown Columbia to rename the corner Sarah Mae Flemming Way, in honor of the Civil Rights activist and trailblazer.
On June 22, 1954, Sarah Mae Flemming, a 20 year old resident of Eastover, boarded a crowded bus operated by South Carolina Electric & Gas Company. When asked to leave her seat and move toward the rear, Flemming violated racial custom by attempting to exit from the front of the bus. The driver struck and ejected her from the bus on the corner of Main and Washington streets. The NAACP filed a lawsuit on her behalf, and in July 1955, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Brown desegregation mandate be applied to public transportation. The ruling was cited in the lawsuit that brought an end to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, made famous by activists Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.
“Although Flemming’s story has never been widely recognized, it is important to understand the profound significance she played in the Civil Rights Movement,” said Dr. Bobby Donaldson, co-chair and University of South Carolina history professor. “Flemming’s heroic act and determination served as a powerful example for individuals such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. as they continued the quest for justice and equality.”
“This morning we pay homage to one of most consequential, yet unsung heroes of the Civil Rights activists movement,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin. “This honorary street naming marks Sarah Mae Flemming’s legacy and determination to create a better tomorrow for herself and those of us who have followed in her footsteps. Today is a defining moment, based on a defining moment. It will inevitably open the door for visitors and locals alike to better understand our compelling Civil Rights story as a city and our shared history as a nation.”
“Heritage tourism is on the rise, and I’m extremely pleased the Columbia region is focusing energy and efforts on recognizing the individuals – the advocates, leaders and trailblazers – who paved the way for all of us during the Civil Rights Movement,” said Ric Luber, president and CEO of the Columbia Metropolitan CVB. “Sarah Mae Flemming was a courageous Civil Rights activist who represents the change we see around us today in our community and continue to strive for. Visitors traveling into the area will be able to learn about the powerful role Flemming, along with many others, played in Columbia, SC’s overarching Civil Rights story.”
The commemoration continues on Sunday, June 30 at 3 p.m. with a few showings of Before Rosa: The Unsung Contributions of Sarah Mae Flemming at Richland Library. Shown as a part of the Nickelodeon Theatre’s Civil Rights Sunday film series, this documentary tells the story of Flemming’s experience on that fateful day and her struggle to get her lawsuit to court. The film’s producer, Steve Crump, will participate in a talkback with Flemming family members after the film.
Columbia joins Birmingham, Ala., Selma, Ala., Montgomery, Ala., Memphis, Tenn., Jackson, Miss. and Washington, D.C., in the national commemoration of the Civil Rights Movement of 1963. Since January 2013, Columbia SC 63 has held a number of local events and programming surrounding the area’s Civil Rights involvement.