February is Black History Month, and the Dorchester County Library is going all out in programs celebrating strides in civil rights – particularly from South Carolina’s perspective.
The Dorchester County Library in St. George is exhibiting Civil Rights-era photographer Cecil Williams’ photography in “Unforgettable: Celebrating a Time of Life, Hope and Bravery” through Jan. 25. The exhibit will be on display at the Summerville library from Jan. 29 to March 16.
The libraries are also featuring Jack Bass, author of “The Orangeburg Massacre.”
Jenn Gleber, branch manager at the Summerville library, said it is a special opportunity organized by Robert Antill, executive director of the Dorchester County Library.
“I just think it’s a great opportunity for our patrons to be able to have that experience of the two (Williams and Bass) coming together and learn more about that history that wasn’t really brought to life,” she said.
The Williams exhibit is a traveling one; the Dorchester County Library will host the debut of the exhibit, which is sponsored by the South Carolina State Library in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Williams is a native of Orangeburg and a professional photographer, videographer, publisher, and author of six books. He received a degree in art from Claflin University.
“Unforgettable” is a sequel to the photo-documentary “Out of the Box in Dixie,” and covers the spectrum of racial change, primarily from the perspective of South Carolina, and includes a collection of images portraying African American history and culture. Those images include South Carolina milestones such as including Harvey Gantt at Clemson University, the Charleston Hospital Workers’ strike and the Orangeburg Massacre.
South Carolina is approaching the 50th anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre. On Feb. 8, 1968, South Carolina Highway Patrol officers opened fire on protesting students on South Carolina State College’s campus in Orangeburg. Three unarmed black students were killed and 27 students were seriously wounded.
The event followed ongoing racial tension in the area. In the fall of 1967, some of the black leaders in the community tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of a local bowling alley, to allow black customers, but Floyd was unwilling to desegregate. Protests began in early February 1968.
On the night of Feb. 8, students were gathered at a bonfire when the Highway Patrol began firing into the crowd of protestors: college students Samuel Hammond and Henry Smith and high school student Delano Middleton were killed.
“Their deaths, which happened more than two years before gunfire by national guardsmen in Ohio killed four students at Kent State University, marked the first such tragedy on any American college campus,” Bass’ website, www.jackbass.com, reads.
On Jan. 12 – the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – Williams will participate in a photography exhibit and book talk at the St. George library. Doors open at 5 p.m. for the public viewing, followed by the talk at 6 p.m. and signing of Williams’ newest publication, “Unforgettable”.
A similar reception will be held Feb. 2 at the Summerville library from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Antill said he attended a training session at the state library in Columbia and while he was there he met a department head – and a friend of Williams – Ashley Till, who mentioned the Williams exhibit was being decommissioned out of the state library and Till had written a grant to turn it into a traveling exhibit. Since Orangeburg is so close to St. George, Antill applied to debut the traveling exhibit through the Dorchester County Library.
Antill said he has been contacted by other libraries that want to host it. He said Williams is working with the newly-developed Center for Civil Rights History at the University of South Carolina, which is using Williams’ work “to piece together South Carolina’s unreported Civil Rights history.”
“It’s such an honor to be associated with that and to have the ability to do that,” Antill said, adding, “And from what I understand Mr. Williams is a wonderful speaker.”
Antill said learning about Williams and Bass raised his personal awareness of the state’s role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, adding that Williams’ and Bass’ work revealed that even police and FBI reports showed that “everything was not correctly reported.”
Gov. Robert McNair falsely asserted that students had fired first. Nine officers who fired were acquitted, while one student, Cleveland Sellers, was convicted of inciting a riot and sent to prison for seven months. He was pardoned in 1993.
“So our history has been altered, at the time, but now we’re learning what the truth was,” Antill said. “So it’s very, very interesting. And just to hear it from the first-person account from Mr. Williams is very interesting as well.”
The Summerville library will then hold a book discussion of “The Orangeburg Massacre” on Jan. 13 from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. The St. George library will host a viewing of the film “Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968”, followed by a discussion with Bass, on Jan. 27 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Both library locations are also holding a viewing of the film “I Am Not Your Negro”; St. George’s event is Feb. 7 at 6 p.m. and Summerville’s is Feb. 14 at 6 p.m.
Antill said the library hopes to hold more special events in general going forward.
“We are very honored to…(host) the debut of the traveling exhibit,” he said. “Just to have the privilege of listening to a first-hand account of South Carolina’s Civil Rights history is an honor for me, it’s an honor for the library, and the library will do everything it can to bring cultural awareness our citizens…in Dorchester County.”