On February 8, the 50th anniversary of the infamous Orangeburg Massacre, two pioneers of the civil rights movement visited Heathwood to share with our 8th graders their first-hand accounts of what it was like to be young students pushing back against entrenched injustice in South Carolina at that time.
Reverend Simon Bouie and Sister Willie Bouie are great-uncle and great-aunt of 8th grader India Young. As college students at Allen University and Clafflin College in the early 1960s, both felt called to take part in the nascent civil rights movement by participating in marches and other peaceful protests. When Reverend Bouie was arrested for sitting at a downtown Columbia lunch counter in 1960, his case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor. Mrs. Bouie went on to play a key role in integrating Columbia schools, becoming the first African-American teacher at both Brookland Cayce and Keenan.
The Bouies’ talk was part of a daylong program called “A Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes: A Day of Perspective,” in which 8th graders explored the civil rights experience from a number of perspectives. Historic Columbia brought its Civil Rights Traveling Trunk to campus, and Assistant U.S. Attorney and Heathwood parent Jay Richardson spoke about his experience as the prosecutor in the Dylann Roof trial. Several students read civil-rights-themed poems and prayers, and Heathwood Chaplain Raven Tarpley discussed the Biblical and spiritual components of the civil rights movement.
As the Bouies’ stories made clear, the spiritual aspects of the movement were critical to its success. Reverent Bouie recalled that in the early 1960s, he and his fellow student protesters did not enjoy widespread support even among the African-American community. But even as parents and school leaders counseled that student activists were pushing for change too hard and doing so in ways that could jeopardize their futures, the church was far more supportive. Likewise, when Mrs. Bouie was arrested for marching at the State House, church groups were instrumental in raising funds to bond her out.
Both of the Bouies went on to have long and distinguished careers, he in the ministry and she in education. But the memories of their experience as student activists remain sharp in their minds, and their stories reveal the incredible courage it took to defy a powerful social order. Mr. Bouie recalled feeling not just uncertain but terrified when the moment came for him to take a seat at a “no blacks allowed” lunch counter. He sat anyway, and helped change history.
Hearing the Bouies’ stories and learning not just what happened in the civil rights movement but how it felt to be a part of it recalled a quote from the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which the 98th graders just read. “If you can learn a simple trick,” Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout, “You’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
That quote was displayed on a screen in the auditorium before the Bouies spoke, and it helped set the tone for the entire day.
Reverend Bouie was recently profiled in The Christian Recorder, the magazine of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. You can read a more detailed account of his involvement in the civil rights movement in their story at http://www.thechristianrecorder.com/south-carolina-town-erects-marker/.