‘The six people … that nobody asked about’- Senate shines a light on ‘forgotten’ victims of 1970 Lamar rioting

Clarence Brunson, Ronald Bacote, Gov. Henry McMaster and David Lunn. McMaster asked to meet them, Lunn said. Photo courtesy Governor’s office

By Bobby Bryant, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

They waited 49 years for these 12 minutes.

On April 30, Hartsville Sen. Gerald Malloy led the state Senate in a recognition of the six black Darlington County students who were terrorized March 3, 1970, when a mob of about 200 white people turned over their school bus in Lamar during a riot protesting school desegregation.

Three of those former students — David Lunn of Detroit, Mich., Clarence Brunson of Hartsville and Ronald Bacote of Virginia —
stood in the Senate chamber with family members as Malloy recounted what happened during the “Lamar Riots.”

He introduced a resolution hailing the six as “an incredible group” long overdue for recognition “for their role in the fight for desegregation and for their outstanding resilience in the face of trauma.”

Two others aboard the overturned bus – Edward Lunn of Texas and Woodrow Wilson Jr. of Columbia – could not attend the Senate session. A third person on the bus, Sally Wilds, is deceased.

David Lunn, now a pastor, began calling the students on the flipped-over bus the “Sad Six” because they were forgotten, swept under history’s rug. Many accounts of the Lamar Riots claimed that the bus or buses overturned were empty of students.

“We were the six people on the school bus that nobody asked about (later). It was almost like we were forgotten. We have never been recognized,” Lunn, 67, told the News & Press before the Senate honored the group.

Malloy told the Senate: “(During the Lamar incident,) there was tear gas. There’s rocks. There’s ax handles. They were told that Miss Wilds was hit in the face. … I know that sometimes these things are harsh to be heard as to what was happening in our history, but the better part of that story is to be inspiring.

“And what they were telling me during lunch was that you cannot look into your rear-view mirror into the future. You’ve got to end up going forward to make things happen. … This is what they have done.”

Malloy added: “As we had lunch today and we talked, it was very emotional for them. … It’s hard for them to tell the story now. … At some point in time you have to let go. I think that these folks, they did let go in some regard many years ago. It is evident by the lives that they have led. … One person said, ‘At last. Here we are. We get a chance to end up having some acknowledgment at last. I’ve held the story in for all these years and now part of the story can be told.’ ”

The resolution Malloy introduced says the six on the overturned bus “withstood devastating injustice and cruelty” and “unthinkable trauma” during the incident.

The resolution describes what happened like this: “A mob of 200 white men, armed with ax handles, heavy chain link, screwdrivers sharpened to a point and bricks, stormed school buses carrying young black children to the newly desegregated high school; police used tear gas to force the mob back and to get children off the bus, but the men were relentless, pelting the police with stones, turning over two buses and breaking out the windows.”

The resolution adds that “the anger that gripped Lamar over racial integration was pervasive during these turbulent times.”

The Resolution

This is the resolution honoring the Lamar Riots survivors as read into the record by the Senate clerk April 30:

“Whereas, this is a Senate resolution to recognize an incredible group of South Carolina citizens from Darlington County for their role in the fight for desegregation and for their outstanding resilience in the face of trauma;

“Whereas, the members of the South Carolina Senate are honored to recognize this group of citizens who, as children during school desegregation in Lamar, South Carolina, withstood devastating injustice and cruelty including a violent attack on their two school buses in 1970; Rev. Dr. David Lunn, Edward Lunn, Clarence Brunson, Ronald Bacote, Woodrow Wilson and the late Sally Wilds were among the children in one of the buses;

“Whereas, on March (3), 1970, a mob of 200 white men, armed with ax handles, heavy chain link, screwdrivers sharpened to a point and bricks, stormed school buses carrying young black children to the newly desegregated high school; police used tear gas to force the mob back and to get children off the bus, but the men were relentless, pelting the police with stones, turning over two buses and breaking out the windows;

“Whereas, the anger that gripped Lamar over racial integration was pervasive during these turbulent times, and angry whites formed gauntlets to harass black children trying to enter schools with mean, vile epithets and profanities;

“Whereas, as children these men and women experienced unthinkable trauma, and the harassment and abuse these individuals faced was not isolated to that Tuesday;

“Whereas, in spite of overwhelming odds this group of citizens has shown incredible strength in overcoming racial barriers, and in bravely persisting in the face of adversity, these men and women have gone on to serve their country and their state as community leaders, pharmacists, public servants, teachers and exemplary citizens;

“Whereas, it is this resiliency and progress that continues to redefine the state of South Carolina and breathe hope into the hearts of many;

“Whereas, recognition of these incredible citizens is far overdue, and the members of the South Carolina Senate extend their warmest appreciation for the pride that these sons and daughters of South Carolina have brought to their state;

“Now therefore be it resolved, the Senate and members of the South Carolina Senate by this resolution recognize an incredible group of South Carolina citizens from Darlington County for their role in the fight (for) desegregation and for their outstanding resiliency in the face of trauma.”

Sen. Malloy’s speech about the Lamar Riots

These are remarks by Hartsville Sen. Gerald Malloy on the Senate floor April 30 as he introduced three of the former students who were aboard a bus overturned by a mob in March 1970 in Lamar.

“I rise today for what I think is probably one of the most important and profound days in our history. And today I have the proud distinction of introducing some … people from my county.

“ … I would welcome my wife, Davita, back to the Senate, my wife of 30 years, Davita, would you please stand and be recognized. Not too long ago, Davita told me, ‘There’s a group that you need to recognize here in the Senate, and it’s something that happened almost 50 years ago.’

“ … Many of you above that age will remember the 1970s, when we had integration of schools. It happened for me in the 4th grade. I was in Chesterfield. I (was sent) to a school that was identical to my school on the other side of town, and it was peaceful in my area, but in some places, it was not.

“Right in Darlington County, we had an instance that obviously sometimes we need to talk about. But not just about what happened, about what happened after that.

“Schools were being integrated in Lamar, South Carolina, and there were six children, young people, on a bus. That bus was overturned as they were trying to integrate schools. Guess what? You’ve not heard from them since. They have been found.”

“They have come back so that we can welcome them in a way that they should be welcomed here in our state.”

“I will tell you before we go through the introductions that they have led distinguished careers. And so, as we get ready to introduce them, I would ask that Mr. Clarence Brunson, Mr. Ronald Bacote, (Rev.) Dr. David Lunn all come stand front and center. ….

“They were three of the six that (were) on the bus. There were three buses. One bus passed by early. It was let go. The second bus with only children, they let them go. (The three men here who were on the last bus) were 17 years of age, at least.

“ … I will tell you a little bit about Mr. Brunson. He resides in Hartsville, South Carolina; he worked at A.O. Smith, retired after 27 years. Here is Mr. Ronald Bacote, who retired as a utility mechanic supervisor for (a) city (in) Virginia; he also served in the military. And then the Rev. David Lunn, who resides in Detroit, Michigan. He’s been a pastor, a servant there for 36 years, also served in the military. They got their orders at the same time that the bus was turned over. They (were) 17 years of age — they were being drafted right in the middle of the school term.

“(Among the people not present today,) there’s one by the name of Woodrow Wilson, who was a pharmacist and also served in the military. And Mr. Edward Lunn, who is in Texas. They could not be here.

“They were saying that sometimes they could not let it go. There’s a story that has not been told. … This story needs to be told. Rev. Lunn said that this story is about grace, and what he’s thankful for is that he is alive. … He has taken this journey, this difficult time, and actually took it on for good. So what it says is that during difficult times … people go on to lead productive lives. …

“I know that sometimes these things are harsh to be heard as to what was happening in our history, but the better part of that story is to be inspiring. And what they were telling me during lunch was that you cannot look into your rear-view mirror into the future. You’ve got to end up going forward to make things happen. … This is what they have done.

“(During the Lamar incident,) there was tear gas. There’s rocks. There’s ax handles. They were told that (the late) Miss Wilds was hit in the face. … I would ask unanimous consent on behalf of Miss Sally Wilds and her family that the next available day that the Senate has available that we will adjourn in her memory.

“ … As we had lunch today and we talked, it was very emotional for them. … It’s hard for them to tell the story now. … At some point in time you have to let go. I think that these folks, they did let go in some regard many years ago. It is evident by the lives that they have led. … One person said, ‘At last. Here we are. We get a chance to end up having some acknowledgment at last. I’ve held the story in for all these years and now part of the story can be told.’ ”

Author: Rachel Howell

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