C.R.C., Inc. celebrates 42 years
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, email@example.com
How does a dream become a set of buildings filled with a rich history of hard working people that sought to inspire? It takes determination, and an unquenchable spirit. When describing the Darlington County Cultural Realism Complex, Inc., it also helped that the dreamer had a healthy amount of sass.
“I am a little black girl from Lee County, born with absolutely nothing,” recalls Wilhelmina P. Johnson, founder and executive director of the CRC, founded in 1973 in Darlington. “My father was a sharecropper. I had my cotton sack when I was two years old. That is how long I’ve been working. All I can say about it, is how much I benefitted from the work and the experience. That is who I am.”
As the center celebrated its 9th Intergenerational Empowerment Rural Survival Vision Extravaganza, Johnson said she wanted to share the history that the center has accumulated, as well as look towards how to best help the future generations.
“I’ve been emphasizing history from the beginning,” said Johnson. “Instead of saying, ‘Oh there is nothing about us.” Well, who is going to do it, baby? We have to. No one is overlooking us. We are overlooking ourselves. I mean probably right out of slavery, but even back then our fore parents made sure we had a place to stay and some land. And here we are now, educated and all, and we have a job to do- help poor people, get together and help as a group. And believe it or not, as an elected official, I have to say the problem with other folks is not trying to help others I stand up for what is right. I don’t mind telling them that they are not doing their job. I don’t care if you are black, blue, pink or white.”
From a tender age, Johnson not only worked hard, she noticed that people were treated differently from where they came from, and how they appeared- down to the very clothing they wore.
“On my first day of school, my teacher sent me out of the room,” remembers Johnson. “My very first day of first grade. There was a little girl that was pretty and well dressed and all… and here I was, trying to enjoy myself, and that old teacher said I was ‘switching” and sent me out of the classroom. I still remember it to this day, how I felt. That let me know if you are not looking a certain way, that people will overlook you. We didn’t have decent clothes- in fact; I only had one little dress that my Mama would wash. I didn’t look like this little girl, so the teacher sent me from around her. When I say everybody has a story? One way or the other, whatever the story is, it shapes you. It lets you notice how the world works.”
Because of those early experiences, Johnson has had an unquenchable desire to make sure that all little children know their worth, and have a voice, especially those in the rural parts of South Carolina like where she was raised.
“All my life it was the same thing,” she said. “And it seemed like the harder I worked to make a change, good things came to me. I went to New York with $10 in my pocket; an old minister from Virginia took me under his wing. Professors, employers, they all helped. When we help others, we can’t lose. We are all here together. I don’t care what country you are from, God created all of us just alike. Biblically speaking, you understand. But there is a difference in reading about it and understanding what it says. You talk about loving people always? Baby, that is what it says.”
Through the long history of the CRC, Johnson’s teaching career, work with the Clemson Extension Office, and decades as Darlington County Council member, her message has stayed true to her passion; to be a voice for the rural community, especially the children.
“They are children from zero to age 18,” says Johnson. “And they learn from us. We have to be a good example. Even if they stray, if we give them the right foundation they will come back. But we can’t just ignore them. We have to all work together; teachers have to do their job. The churches have to do their jobs. We, as elected officials, have to do our jobs. We have to get rid of the drugs and the guns. If we can find a needle in a haystack across the world, if we all work together in our community to get rid of the drugs and guns, we will make a difference for all of the children.”
Her passion for history came about because when others lamented that they were not being mentioned, she decided to fix that- but it was not always popular.
“We got our charter in 1973, and God puts things in place for a reason. There was a meeting coming up in Columbia about the Bicentennial. So, I knew we were chartered and all, so I got some information together and that same year, we celebrated the Fourth of July. Well, Mr. Stanley, he was very active (note: Mr. Arthur “Man” Stanley, leader in Darlington County for his work for civil rights) and he said, ‘Why are you celebrating the 4th of July? We don’t have anything to celebrate. That’s not for us.’ But I said to myself, we helped build this country. And I decided that this 200 years celebration was not going to pass without a mention.”
Johnson worked with her committee members to gather documents, records, and photographs. She invited Annie Green Nelson to be the keynote speaker at an event at the CRC; Nelson was a native that was the first black woman to write a novel in South Carolina. Mr. Rudisell from the Historical Commission in Darlington County gathered notes from all the black churches in South Carolina and had them typed up into booklet forms.
“Then, Mr. Hills decided he would endorse our project,” said Johnson with a smile. “He added a line item to the State Bicentennial Proclamation for Ethnic Participation. To that point, there had been nothing to represent black people at that time. Then he wanted to know if I would be speak on that addition in Columbia.”
Was that her proudest moment?
“I can’t say that. I go from one event to the next. Here is always work to do, that needs to be done,” said Johnson. “I was proud of our celebration on Saturday. Seeing our keynote speaker Kerstin McDuffie and remembering how hard her father struggled to raise her as a little bitty girl, it made me cry to hear her talk. Now she is raising her own children with a good husband, and has a good career. That is what the CRC has been all about”