Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act

This week we have been celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights act here at Southeastern Seminary. This morning, we had a special Wednesday chapel with a panel discussion composed of activists and historians reflecting on the Civil Rights act.

The panel was moderated by Dr. Danny Akin and was made up of historian Dr. Gerald Smith who is currently currently an associate professor of history and the Martin Luther King Center Scholar-in Residence at the University of Kentucky. Also, Dr. David Roach another historian who earned his PhD in church history from Southern Seminary in Louisville where his dissertation focused on Southern Baptists and civil rights during the second half of the twentieth century. Also on the panel was our own Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean of the College,  Dr. Brent Aucoin who not only authored the book A rift in the Clouds which examines the efforts of some Federal Judges in the South to protect the civil rights of African Americans, he also has a book soon to be published, The Strange Career of Thomas Goode Jones, which shows how one white leader in Alabama worked secretly with Booker T. Washington to end debt peonage, convict leasing, and the lynching of African Americans. And I especially enjoyed hearing from Mr. Clarence Henderson who bravely participated in the sit-in in 1960 at Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro NC.

With recent events that have occurred, such as what has occurred in Ferguson, MO I am delighted that Southeastern Seminary is dedicated to Kingdom Diversity.

Photo from SC Department of Archives and History
As I was listening to a discussion this morning that turned to Emmett Till, an African-American boy who was murdered in Mississippi at age 14 because he was accused of flirting with a white woman. I was reminded of the story of George Stinney Jr.

George Stinney never made it past age 14 either. George Stinney was one of the youngest persons to be executed in the United States in the 20th Century. In March of 1944, Stinney was arrested for the murder of two little (white) girls, ages 8 and 11 in Alcolu, SC. They passed by the Stinney's property asking George and his sister if they knew where to find some flowers they were searching. The girls never returned home, and after a huge search party was organized, the bodies of the little girls were found the next morning.

The entire process from arrest to execution for this young boy was just 81 days. He was executed on June 16, 1944. He carried a Bible in his arm to the Electric Chair (where a booster seat was required). The boy was only 5'2" and 90 lbs.

I first heard of George Stinney when I was in High School. We had moved from my home town of Florence, SC to Manning SC (in Clarendon County, near Alcolu where Stinney was from). In my history class in 9th grade, I had to write a paper on a historical event from SC. I have been fascinated with history, and doing research through old newspapers and such since I was a child. I was in the Clarendon County Library doing research for my paper, and the Librarian told me about George Sinney. She guided me toward some old newspapers with articles containing information on him, and the trial. This was in 1995. I was scolded by my concerned history teacher for writing a paper on the subject. You see, in Manning (actually all of Clarendon County) at that time was a very racially tense place. The KKK was still very active, black churches were being burned, there were cases of police brutality against African-Americans, and my teacher said that was not an appropriate subject for me to be writing on, and strongly suggested that I take the next week and re-do my assignment (we were to give a presentation in class). I didn't. I only got a C on the paper. It didn't matter how well written, or received it was at that point. I wish I still had a copy of it -- I'd like to go back and read what I had written then.

There has been some good news recently regarding George Stinney. Back in January of this year, Lawyers were finally able to argue on behalf of George in a courtroom -- something he was denied back in 1944. His supporters have applied for a pardon.

UPDATE (12/18/14): 

After 70 years, George Stinney has finally been exonerated

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