Eyewitnesses of the movement relate their stories in forum
By Stephan Drew, Editor
An historic event took place at Jerusalem Baptist Church on Friday evening, March 3, 2023. It was the 53rd anniversary of the racial assault on three Lamar school buses and the terror inflicted on the young African-American students inside. But, the horrible bus incident was only one of a broad range of racial issues discussed by the speakers at the church, located at 301 S. Sixth Street in Hartsville. An extensive collection of photos and other documents were also on display, chronicling the civil rights movement across the state of South Carolina.
The event, attended by approximately 125 people, was sponsored by The Williams Company, Hartsville Museum, Butler Heritage Foundation, Hartsville NAACP, People to People, Gospel in the Park, Barbara Carraway, and the Still We Rise Foundation. Some local dignitaries in attendance were Rep. Robert Williams, Darlington County Sheriff James Hudson Jr., and Hartsville City Manager Daniel Moore, Darlington County School Board member Audrey Gore, Hartsville City Councilmembers Kenzie “Pete” Delaine and Teresa Mack. Former Darlington City Councilmember Carolyn Bruce was also in attendance. Special thanks was given to Paster Boyd, Mrs. Lynell Williams of Jerusalem Baptist Church.
The panel was made up of Emily Stanley, daughter of noted Darlington NAACP activist Arthur “Man” Stanley; Dr. Alvin T. Heatley, native of Hartsville and graduate of Butler High School; Dr. David Lunn, Church of God minister for over 30 years and survivor of the Lamar attack; and Charles Govan, Claflin College graduate, Darlington County School Board member and former resident of Orangeburg, where the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre left 3 young black men dead and 27 others wounded. Moderated by Bhakti Hough, award-winning journalist, music teacher, President and Artist-in-Residence at New World Arts, the program allowed the panelists to give their eyewitness accounts and share with the audience their experiences during those extremely challenging times. Sen. Maggie Glover was scheduled to appear but, was unable to attend.
Also present were the brother and nephew of Luke West, the only print journalist on the scene of the Lamar attack as it happened. West’s coverage was picked up by the New York Times and his papers are now housed in the collection of the University of South Carolina’s (USC) Center for Civil Rights History and Research and will be available for future generations of the public to view. West’s photos and documents are also included in the “Justice for All” exhibit, which will be open until March 31 at the Hartsville Museum, 221 N. Fifth St.
Dr. Bobby Donaldson, Executive Director of the USC Center for Civil Rights History and Research opened the program and described the events of March 3, 1970 before introducing the panel. “Tonight, we acknowledge the shocking violence of that day and the continuing trauma that it has cast on those young students and their families,” Donaldson stated, “Tonight, those survivors, those families are here. We honor you for your courage in the path for justice.”
Mrs. Jannie Harriot, Hartsville native and Executive Director of Development and Programs at the Cecil Williams Museum, gave the welcome and delivered opening remarks. Introduced by Donaldson as his “mentor”, Harriot explained that she has known Dr. Donaldson for over 22 years, having met him in the basement of a church in Augusta, GA. Harriot was teaching at Mayo High School in Darlington on the day of the Lamar bus attack and panelist Emily Stanley was one of her students at the time. “It is time that people know our story,” Harriot stated, “and I am so glad to see so many children here this evening. The stories they will be telling tonight are stories we need to tell our children.”
Bhakti Hough gave a brief depiction of historic events from the Emancipation Proclamation to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. He explained how voting rights and other equal rights were given during the late 1860s but, were taken back after Federal troops left the south in 1876, which started the decades-long oppression known as the “Jim Crow” laws.
Emily Stanley described her feelings during her first day in integrated schools. “My first experience with racial tension was actually when I went to the schools,” Stanley stated, “it was a little scary. I was 10 years old and the things that I heard made me fearful.” Stanley said she had not spent much time around white people. “I had seen them,” she said, “but not in those numbers.”
Dr. Heatley related his earliest memories of racism. “I’ve been black for 85 years,” Heatley stated, “my Dad used to take us to Sears in Florence. When you walked in, they had two water fountains – one for white, one for black. We used to go to Sears a lot. Once, I attempted to drink out of that white fountain. My Dad said, ‘Nope, go ahead and drink’. He was fed up with something that he really didn’t talk about. But, I knew things were different.” Heatley went on to describe how his Grandmother would tell him about things that were happening but, would always end with the statement, “Now, I don’t want these things to happen to you. Get into some school to understand who you are and what you are, so you can be what you want to be.”
Dr. Lunn, who was one of the 6 students terrorized in the Lamar incident, recounted one of his experiences as a child. “There was a Caucasian family that lived near us. I went to play with the young boy,” Lunn stated, “and the mother said, ‘Don’t come over here anymore. I was a child and I felt that spirit. A spirit doesn’t die, it transfers into others. Some things don’t have to be talked about. You saw it every day.”
Mr. Govan remembered going into Belk as a child, seeing the signs which said “white” and “colored” and gaining an understanding of what was happening. “But,” Govan said, “my mother used to tell me, ‘Charles, there is going to be a better day.” Govan continued to describe walking his mother through a white neighborhood on her way to work. Govan’s mother was a nurse and he described how she didn’t want him to go to work at the hospital. “Why?” Govan asked, “My mother said, ‘I’m not going to have them calling you ‘boy’, and I’m not going to have them calling you a N*****.” Govan said he wanted to be a golf caddie at the country club but, his mother said, ‘No, I’m not going to have them saying, ‘Boy, go get this’ and ‘Boy, go get that.” Govan continued, “My mother said, ‘Education is the key out of poverty. I won’t tell you what to major in but, you’re going to major in something.”
Describing conversations around her home, Emily Stanley said, “My Dad was at all times cognizant of the black/white issue, racism and he was angry a lot. But, he told all of us children, ‘You’re just as good as anybody else and, when the time comes, I’m going to make sure that you get everything you possibly can and you will not settle for less.”
Dr. Lunn, who said his family were sharecroppers, remembers the sons of the white man his family worked for driving by their house and throwing glass drink bottles through their windows. “But,” Lunn continued, “my mother and father believed in education. I have 7 brothers and sisters. We all went to college, from sharecropping.” “There wasn’t a whole lot of discussion,” Lunn admitted, “but the discussion was needed because of what was happening.” Lunn cautioned the panel and the audience, “If you don’t know how to edit the situation, if you don’t know how to handle really talking about black history or history that is caucasion, black, colored and white, you may get in a little bit of trouble.” When asked why we should remember the Lamar bus attack, Lunn said, “If you disrespect your past, how can you prepare for the future?”
Lunn, the only survivor of the bus attack on the panel, was asked about the environment in Lamar in March 1970. “It was like a Coke bottle being shaken up,” he said, “Don’t take the top off! Older white women would lay down in the street and say, ‘No, you’re not coming in here.” He admits that he had severe emotional trauma from the incident and still has occasional flashbacks as one of 6 children on a bus, surrounded by 200 white people with axe handles, chains and other implements. “I thought they were going to get me a tombstone,” Lunn said. He was praised for helping the other students by covering their bodies and calming them down.
The panelists were asked how they felt about the current racial situation in America. “This country is going backward,” Emily Stanley said, “and we have got to stop it. As much as my father did, he always wanted to do more.” Dr. Heatley reminded the audience to get involved and make a difference. “Do your part,” he said, “when it’s your time, step up to the plate.” Recalling an incident from his youth and reminding the crowd how things have changed, Charles Govan said, “Most of you have never had a shotgun pointed in your face just because you asked them if they were registered to vote.”
“We cannot be complacent,” Emily Stanley stated, “If you want something, you have to fight for it. Nobody is going to give it to you.” The other panelists agreed. “We’ve got to teach our children. You need formal AND informal education, Dr. Heatley added, “ A Phd who can’t tie his shoes is useless. Know your history, know the law, know what you can and can’t do. Don’t let someone else tell you who you are. No one defines me but me.”
Discussing community involvement, Dr. Lunn stated, “We really need to connect with each other.” When asked what was necessary to have open, honest and calm discussions about race, Emily Stanley said, “Take it behind the curtains and get it out of the media. We publicize everything in our lives and that does not help us to get anything resolved. People puff up and they want to look great in front of someone. And, it exacerbates the situation, it does not help. That is what we can do.” Dr. Heatley responded, “We, the adults, are responsible, white and black. If we’re going to do it, get some people together who want to discuss these issues, don’t let the press in. Talk about it and understand that Jesus died for all of us. And, we need each other.” “We have to have conversations and that doesn’t necessarily need to be with the news media present,” Mr. Govan said, “We can disagree. But, we can disagree agreeably. Even in Darlington and Hartsville, we have issues that need to be addressed. And, they’re not getting addressed. Our children are looking at us as failures because they say, ‘if you don’t know what you’re doing, how are you going to direct us in what to do?’ You lead by example and our children see a poor example of our leadership.”
Clarence Brunson, another survivor of the bus incident who was not on the panel, stood to speak. “If you get the government out of the house,” he said, “and let the parents handle things, we would get rid of a lot of these problems.”
Dr. Bobby Donaldson closed the event with a quote from Isaiah 51:1: “The LORD says, “Listen to me, you that want to be saved, you that come to me for help. Think of the rock from which you came, the quarry from which you were cut.”