Columbia, capital of SC, recalls civil rights past

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 13, 2014 at 2:02 pm •  Published: March 13, 2014
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — In 1960, Simon Bouie — a black student at Allen University — was arrested for the only time in his life while leading a sit-in aimed at integrating a lunch counter in South Carolina. With hundreds of fellow students, Bouie went to a Columbia drugstore, sat on a stool, and was taken to jail for trespassing.

"It was kind of a fiery time, and everybody had their guards up," Bouie, 74, said by phone recently, from his home in Philadelphia, where he is a pastor. "Local people, it was just a shock to them to see all of us come in and sit there. They were seeing something they had not seen before."

Even decades later, Bouie's voice is animated as he describes the desire he and other young people had to see such places desegregated. The Columbia drugstore itself has been closed for years, although the building that housed it still stands.

Bouie's conviction was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled it was illegal to charge people with trespassing without prior warning. More than 50 years later, he is returning to Columbia to celebrate a renewed interest in discovering the civil rights past of South Carolina's capital city.

On Friday, he will be one of a number of former activists on hand for the unveiling of a series of commemorative markers with images and information of notable events that took place in the Southern city. Several will be near the site of the former drugstore.

The event is part of Columbia SC 63, a retrospective effort undertaken by city officials to mark Columbia's place in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Like many southern cities, Columbia played a role in the campaign for equal treatment for blacks, as students held sit-ins and marched on the Statehouse. Allen University and Benedict College, both in Columbia's downtown, served as incubators for many black student activists.

Until now, much of that history hasn't been widely discussed or displayed, and city officials hope visitors and residents alike can now get a better understanding of the city's place in history.

"It permits Columbia to insert itself in the national narrative," Bobby Donaldson, a historian at the University of South Carolina, said of the look back at the city's history. "The Columbia story is a reminder that the movement took place in many places around the country."

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