Civil rights veterans who helped desegregate downtown Columbia 50 years ago returned Friday to the place of protest, as historic markers telling their stories were unveiled.
Speakers reminded the crowd of about 100 people gathered in the shadow of the State House that modern issues, including affordable health care, require just as much attention.
“We must respond to the macedonian call to aid the least of us,” said Dee Dee Wright of Greenville, who was a teenage NAACP youth leader during the protests. “The year 2014 should be the year of change to do what is right and not what is popular for those who are getting free health care insurance while others are denied full medical health care.”
Wright was among a half-dozen speakers who included S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal, Columbia City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman, USC historian Bobby Donaldson, Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites and S.C. Parks, Recreation and Tourism Executive Director Duane Parrish.
The Rev. Moses Javis, who was among hundreds of students who occupied lunch counter stools, drew a laugh from the crowd when he noted that most of the students were of modest means.
“If we had been served, we would have been arrested because we didn’t have money,” said Javis, a Benedict College graduate who now lives in Jacksonville, Fla. “But fate had its say that they weren’t going to serve you anyway. You didn’t have to have any money. You just had to have time, patience, endurance and courage to sit where you never sat before.”
The nine historic markers, seven on Main Street and two at other downtown locations, commemorate the struggles of the early 1960s, when Columbia and South Carolina were strictly segregated. The downtown corridor was the scene of dozens of protests until white and colored signs were finally removed in 1963.
Columbia SC 63, an initiative by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, erected the historic markers downtown, which cost about $25,000. The city is providing maps for a civil rights walking tour for local citizens and tourists.
Columbia is one of seven Southeastern cities documenting the civil rights movement of the 1960s, focusing on the pivotal year of 1963.