Beasley on the ‘Lamar Riots’ and his family’s choice

By Bobby Bryant, Editor

Former S.C. Governor David Beasley. FILE PHOTO

David Beasley, arguably Darlington County’s most famous son, is hard to catch. In his job as executive director of the United Nations’ World Food Programme, he’s a world traveler. The agency he runs is based in Rome. He’s constantly airborne, winging from one nation to another to combat world hunger. Those efforts helped win the WFP a Nobel Prize in December, and Beasley – a native of Lamar and resident of Society Hill – collected the award. Because of COVID-19 worries, there was no elaborate ceremony, just an online event. When Beasley does interviews, he’s usually focused on the WFP’s mission and the threat of hunger as a problem the world must confront. But recently, when a reporter for the University of South Carolina’s magazine, Carolinian, got him on the phone, he went in some other directions. (Beasley is a double graduate of USC, earning a degree in interdisciplinary studies in 1979 and a degree from USC’s School of Law in 1983.) One of those other directions was his life in Lamar, where he was raised. What follows is a transcript from that section of the USC interview. Q. “Talk a little bit about that — your childhood, how it prepared you for a role like this, growing up in Darlington County.” A. “A little town called Lamar. Both of my parents are now deceased, but both were ardent supporters of the public school system. And Lamar went through an extremely violent, volatile time. “When people turned over school buses (during desegregation in 1970), it was global news. And that was my school. Literally, almost all of the whites left the public schools after they created these private schools. “My mother and father kept us in the public schools, stayed with it, and that’s where I developed some of the greatest relationships in my life, relationships that helped shape me as to how I see people— that we’re all equal, we’re all brothers and sisters, and I’m no better than you. “That was ingrained in me by my mother and father — my father, who served in politics, and my mother, who never missed an opportunity to say what she thought. “All that really helped me appreciate people of different colors, of different cultures, and it helped me appreciate the simple fact — which is the motivating factor in my life — that we’re all created in the image of the Almighty, and we should love our neighbor as our equal. “I think growing up like I did prepared me for going someplace like Chad, or anywhere, and realizing, these are our brothers and sisters. They’re suffering, we’re suffering. I consider it an honor to know these people. They teach me a lot about life. They have very little but they have hope.” Most of the interview deals with world food problems, and Beasley, a former S.C. governor, is characteristically blunt: “2021 is going to be a catastrophic year. No doubt, the worst humanitarian year since World War II. It could very well be the worst humanitarian year in hundreds of years. We’re facing famine of Biblical proportions.” But what strikes me most about the USC interview is Beasley’s comments about Lamar’s integration problems in the 1970s and how his family’s decision to keep him in public school “helped shape” how he sees people. The “Lamar Riots” of 1970, when mobs attacked school buses, created terror in families across Darlington County and helped to spark a “white flight” to private schools. Pretty much every family in the county with school-age children had to make a choice: Stay or go? Beasley’s family “stayed with it” and chose to keep their son in the Darlington County public-school system. I don’t believe Beasley intends any criticism of the private schools that grew in Darlington County after desegregation; his family simply chose a different path. And he believes that path ultimately led him to the World Food Programme, which could help save millions from starvation. As he put it: “They’re suffering, we’re suffering.”

Author: Rachel Howell

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