Monday, March 12, 2007

Steven Ross - Day 8

From the rarefied air of Beaufort, I arrive back in the real world in Orangeburg. A working-class town south of Columbia, it is the home of South Carolina State University (SCSU). Founded in 1896, this HBC (historically black college) has an open admissions policy and is consistently among the national leaders in producing African-American students with degrees in biology, education, business, engineering technology, computer science/mathematics, and English language/literature. Not surprisingly, I learn that the traditionally white-dominated South Carolina legislature has favored South Carolina University and Clemson University, and funding to SCSU has significantly lagged behind.

In Orangeburg, my host is Ellen Zisholtz, citizen/activist/advocate extraordinaire. Ellen, among other things, grew up in the Bronx, went to CCNY, has taught in Spanish Harlem, worked for choreographer Bill T. Jones, raised four kids, and finally emmigrated to the South. Formerly, the head of the Arts Council of Beaufort, she is now the Director of the I.P.Stanback Museum & Planetarium and an Assistant Professor in Visual and Performing Arts at SCSU. Once meeting her, it comes as no surprise that, though she has only been here a short time, she has hit the ground running. Oh, she also throws a great dinner party.

Ellen gives me a tour of the museum, and the current beautiful exhibit of 20th century African-American art. As it turns out, it is from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Darrell Walker. Now, for the uninitiated, Darrell Walker was from Chicago (I believe a childhood friend of Isaiah Thomas), was an All-American basketball player at University of Arkansas, and then the number one draft pick in 1984 for my then beloved New York Knicks. I was told that while they were Knick teammates, one of my all time favorites, Bernard King, turned Darrell on to the joys of art collecting.

We pass a local bowling alley on the way to the campus. Ellen tells me some history about the establishment. On February 8, 1968, around 200 protesters had gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University to protest the segregation of the then All Star Bowling Lanes. Students set grass fires and tried to burn down a vacant house. An altercation ensued in which several South Carolina Highway Patrol officers were struck with thrown objects. The officers also stated that they believed they were receiving small arms fire during the incident. However, evidence that they were being fired on was inconclusive, and there would appear to be no evidence that the protesters were armed or had fired on officers.The officers responded by firing into the crowd, killing three young men, Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith, and wounding 27 others. The ensuing trial, billed as the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest, led to the acquittal of all of the defendants. Though this predated the the Kent State shootings, and was the first incident of its kind on an American university campus, the Orangeburg Massacre received relatively little media coverage. The university's gymnasium is named in memory of the three men, and a memorial square was erected on campus in their honor.

As it turns out, it is Spring Break at SCSU, and the place is a true ghost town. A smallish crowd of 30 watch the films. An intimate gathering, but fun nonetheless.

Next and final stop, Asheville, NC.