Stroup on Moore and Burton, 'Toward the Meeting of the Waters: Currents in the Civil Rights Movement of South Carolina during the Twentieth Century'
Winfred B. Moore, Orville Vernon Burton, eds. Toward the Meeting of the Waters: Currents in the Civil Rights Movement of South Carolina during the Twentieth Century. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008. 470 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57003-755-9.
Reviewed by Rodger E. Stroup (SC Department of Archives and History) Published on H-SC (September, 2011) Commissioned by Phillip Stone
Civil Rights in South Carolina
It is not often that you have the opportunity to review a book and you discover it is difficult to find something to criticize. But that is the case with Toward the Meeting of the Waters, an edited volume based on the conference “The Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina” held at the Citadel in Charleston in March 2003. Since the beginning of the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century much has been written about the role that South Carolina played in this significant episode of American history. In Toward the Meeting of the Waters many of the standard interpretations presented in published sources are challenged and discarded as new information is brought to light. Perhaps John Monk captures the importance of the book in his foreword when he comments: “The Citadel conference was about history. But it also made history.” Monk goes on to point out that “for much of the twentieth century most South Carolina journalists and professors at the state’s universities failed to speak out fully, forcefully, and truthfully about the state’s racial dilemmas” (p. xv). Toward the Meeting of the Waters represents the best of academic scholarship on the history of the civil rights movement in the state, but it goes much further by including the voices of many of the major figures who were involved.
Whether you are an academic with extensive knowledge of the subject or a newcomer jumping into this field for the first time, the organization of the book helps you easily find what you are seeking. Monk’s foreword does an excellent job of tracing the history of the treatment of the civil rights movement by both historians and journalists. Each of the six major sections includes an introduction that briefly summarizes each article and places it in historical context. Many of the essays present convincing arguments that challenge many long-held beliefs about the civil rights movement in South Carolina. Finally, Charles Joyner’s concluding essay presents his personal perspective as a scholar and participant, reminding us of “How Far We Have Come--How Far We Still Have to Go.”
One significant feature of the book is the inclusion of comments from the individuals who participated in the events. Following Tony Badger’s paper “From Defiance to Moderation: South Carolina Governors and Radical Change,” former governors Fritz Hollings and John West provide their insights, which are followed by questions from the audience. Both the comments by major figures from the era and the questions and answers add further insights into the civil rights movement. Likewise the “Retrospectives” section contains scholarly essays followed by participants’ reflections and comments.
Perhaps the most significant thread in all of the essays is the recurring theme that integration in South Carolina did not occur as peacefully as previous historians and journalists have portrayed. While the Orangeburg Massacre stands out as the most evident example of violence in the state, there were many others that have received little attention. From the attacks on the homes of the complainants in the Briggs v. Elliott (1952) case to numerous examples of voter intimidation, examples of violence were more widespread than generally acknowledged. One previously little-known instance is highlighted in Frank Beacham’s essay “This Magic Moment: When the Ku Klux Klan Tried to Kill Rhythm and Blues Music in South Carolina.” Beacham chronicles the story of Charlie Fitzgerald, the owner of Charlie’s Place in Myrtle Beach, “where black and white young teenagers attracted to each other’s music came together at Charlie’s Place to create a new dance that came to be known as the shag” (p. 39). As a prosperous black businessman Charlie frequently violated the social norms of the day, entering all-white restaurants and stores. On an August night in 1950 members of the Ku Klux Klan kidnapped Charlie, burned his business, took him to a deserted location, beat him severely, and left him for dead. But Charlie survived, and was taken to Columbia and placed in jail without being charged. Eventually the members of the Klan were arrested, but the all-white grand jury refused to indict them. As Beacham points out this event is not mentioned in any South Carolina history book, partly because the local and statewide papers did not cover the story. It leaves one wondering how many other victims like Charlie are unknown because events were not reported in the media.
Wim Roef’s essay “The Impact of 1940s Civil Rights Activism on the State’s 1960s Civil Rights Scene: A Hypothesis and Historiographical Discussion” challenges the long-held mantra that South Carolina’s African American leaders civil rights leaders were passive and ineffectual. Roef argues that in the 1940s black activism in the state followed a legalistic approach, always seeking to stay within the law. As a result, older leaders worked with the more militant activists of the 1960s “to balance the instincts of the younger generation with a measured response that was in the tradition of the earlier reformers” (p. 144).
School textbooks across the nation hail Brown v. Board of Education (1954) as the defining Supreme Court case in the civil rights struggle. However, very few of them mention Briggs v. Elliott. In their essay “Seeds in Unlikely Soil: The Briggs v. Elliott School Segregation Case” Orville Vernon Burton, Beatrice Burton, and Simon Appleford present the “dramatic story of how this community of African Americans risked their homes, their livelihoods, and even their lives in pursuit of the rights of their children to have a decent education” (p. 176). The results of their actions brought an end to legal segregation and “it can be said that the Palmetto State began the modern civil rights movement” (p. 176). All too often South Carolina is held up to ridicule, but just as frequently the state does not receive recognition for its leadership of many positive actions.
At the outset of this review I commented that it was difficult to find something to criticize in this outstanding work. One aspect of civil rights movement I would like to see expanded upon is the story of South Carolina’s “equalization” schools. In 1950 at the urging of Governor James F. Byrnes the General Assembly passed a $75 million bond issue to upgrade the inferior schools in the state to ensure that they were truly “separate but equal.” The equalization schools are mentioned in several essays, but only in reference to the political scene. In recent years a substantial research effort has greatly expanded not only our understanding of the political story, but also identifies the number, location, and subsequent use of the structures. An MA thesis in the public history program at the University of South Carolina instigated a National Register multiple resource nomination. The National Register listing in 2009 identifies extant equalization school buildings. As one of the still visible legacies of South Carolina’s struggle to avoid integration the equalization schools deserve a more visible presence in the literature of the civil rights movement.
Toward the Meeting of the Waters opens a whole new chapter in the story of the civil right movement in South Carolina. Challenging traditional interpretations, the essays provide sound arguments to support their revised explanations of the events and realities of the movement. The comments and insights from many of the players in these historic events add an additional layer of information that enhances the research of the essayists. Toward the Meeting of the Waters is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the civil rights story in South Carolina.
. Rebekah Dobrasko, “Upholding ‘Separate but Equal:’ South Carolina’s School Equalization Program, 1951-1955,” (MA thesis, University of South Carolina, 2005).
. “Equalization Schools in South Carolina, 1951-1960,” http://www.nationalregister.sc.gov/MPS/MPS051.pdf.
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Citation: Rodger E. Stroup. Review of Moore, Winfred B.; Burton, Orville Vernon, eds., Toward the Meeting of the Waters: Currents in the Civil Rights Movement of South Carolina during the Twentieth Century. H-SC, H-Net Reviews. September, 2011. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=32827This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.