In Orangeburg, a Museum Spotlights People, Events Crucial to the Civil Rights Movement

Feb 6, 2020

A new museum in Orangeburg county celebrates South Carolina residents who fought racial injustice. The Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum features over 500 photographs, most of which were taken by Williams. After years of trying to get local support for a civil rights museum in the area, Williams said he used thousands of dollars of his own money to create a place where the images and stories of those who helped shape American history can displayed.

Tucked away in a residential neighborhood, not far from where the Orangeburg massacre took place, is the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum. Hundreds of pictures taken before and during the height of the American civil rights movement are on display, including a picture of Harvey Gantt, surrounded by international press, as he enrolled as the first African-American student at then Clemson Agricultural College. Other images include a picture of civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, during a visit to South Carolina.

Many other pictures of people whose names are familiar to history also hang in display. But according to museum founder Cecil Williams, there are many more exhibits of people whose names are not well known. The 82-year old photographer said goal is to correct that oversight.

Cecil Williams in front of the Briggs-Delaine exhibit at his museum
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio

“So much of the American history books concentrate so much on the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.” Williams said his goal is not to take anything away from King or Parks, adding that they “are our great symbols,” but he notes that key events that took place in South Carolina, preceded many civil rights events often written and talked about.

My museum celebrates the fact that South Carolina is the birth place, you might say the big bang, of the American Civil Rights Movement

“My museum celebrates the fact that South Carolina is the birth place, you might say the big bang, of the American Civil Rights Movement.”

Williams said the theme of his museum is “The South Carolina Events that Changed America,” and that a

string of Clarendon County events, spearheaded by Rev. Joseph Delaine, is the perfect example of this.

“If it was that the Rev. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were reacting to the Brown V. Board of Education case, historians seemingly have forgotten to include where the Brown case came from.”

FROM THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

The Briggs case was named for Harry Briggs, one of twenty parents who brought suit against R.W. Elliott, the president of the school board for Clarendon County, South Carolina. Initially, parents had only asked the county to provide school buses for the black students as they did for whites. When their petitions were ignored, they filed a suit challenging segregation itself. Reverend J. A. DeLaine, a school principal, was instrumental in recruiting the parent plaintiffs and enlisting the help of the NAACP. Thurgood Marshall, lead counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Inc., and Harold Boulware, a local lawyer, filed Briggs v. Elliott in the fall of 1950.

Beryl Dakers is host of SC ETV’s Palmetto Scene. The program recently featured an interview with Williams. Dakers told SC Public Radio that being surrounded by myriad photographs that show South Carolina civil rights history is almost overwhelming.

“The first exhibit that you see to your left, as you walk in is devoted to the Briggs, Delaine families,” Dakers said. She added their case is often forgotten as the lead case in Brown V. Board of Education.

“As a journalist, I am very grateful for this repository, which give us supplementary information,” Dakers added.

Museum hours are arranged by appointment and tours are given by Cecil Williams himself.