Columbia’s Main Street was the stage for a number of defining moments during the Civil Rights Movement. A young domestic worker was ejected from a city bus for trying to exit off the front instead of the back at the corner of Main and Washington; sit-ins occurred regularly at lunch counters like Kress near the corner of Main and Hampton; and marches and protests filled the SC State House grounds at the state’s seat of government, which anchors Main Street.
All featured images and videos are courtesy of photographers Cecil Williams and David Wallace, The State Newspaper Photograph Archive, and the University of South Carolina Libraries.
January 14, 1868
The 1868 Constitution
The South Carolina Constitutional Convention meets in Charleston to write a new state constitution. The majority African American convention creates a new, democratic constitution that allowed all men to vote, created integrated public schools, and established political equality regardless of race. As a result, South Carolina voters elected African American men to the state legislature and state office, strengthening African American political power.
1873 – 1877
UofSC Desegregates for First Time
As a part of the 1868 Constitution, all schools that received state funding must be opened to all persons despite color or previous condition. This meant that schools such as the University of South Carolina had to open their doors to African Americans for the first time in its existence. As a result, the student population on campus became approximately 85% African American.
September 10, 1895
United States Senator Benjamin Tillman calls the South Carolina Constitutional Convention. With only a few African American representatives, including Robert Smalls, the convention does away with many of the gains made by the 1868 Constitution, including taking away the right to vote for almost all African Americans. This document, in amended form, remains the constitution of South Carolina today.
First NAACP chapters in South Carolina are established in Charleston and Columbia.
November 10, 1939
State NAACP is Organized
Twenty-nine representatives from branches around South Carolina met in the Benedict College library in Columbia and founded the South Carolina NAACP State Conference of Branches.
John Henry McCray establishes the Lighthouse and Informer newspaper which becomes the unofficial organ of the South Carolina NAACP Conference of Branches. Later this year, the Reverend James M. Hinton is elected president of the South Carolina NAACP Conference of Branches.
July 21, 1942
Columbia NAACP President Rev. E.A. Adams and other members of the state conference form the Negro Citizens Committee of South Carolina (NCC) to rally support for a voting rights campaign.
May 24, 1944
Progressive Democratic Party is Formed
Led by Lighthouse and Informer editor John McCray, the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) held its first convention in Columbia.
June 16, 1944
The state of South Carolina executed 14-year old George Stinney. An all-white jury had found him guilty of murdering two white girls in only ten minutes. In 2014, a judge threw out his conviction and called his execution “cruel and unusual punishment.”
May 26, 1945
Following a successful suit by black teachers in Charleston, black teachers filed suit for equal pay in Columbia’s public school system. Judge J. Waites Waring ruled in favor of Albert Thompson, a teacher at Booker T. Washington Heights school.
George Elmore fights for Voting Rights
The Negro Citizens Committee conducted a voter registration campaign to open the Democratic Party primary to blacks. The committee organized teams of prospective black voters in Columbia to register including George Elmore, an entrepreneur and political activist. He successfully sued the Democratic Party in Elmore v. Rice and won the right to vote for African Americans in the Democratic primary.
August 13, 1946
Black voters, including George Elmore, attempted to vote in the August primary but were turned away by Democratic Party officials. Harold Boulware, the head of the state conference legal committee, filed a class action lawsuit, Elmore v. Rice, on this date.
October 20-22, 1946
International Meeting in Columbia
Southern Negro Youth Congress met in Columbia at the Township Auditorium and on the campuses of Benedict College and Allen University. Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Robeson were among the national leaders who addressed the delegation.
November 5, 1946
After half an hour of deliberation, an all-white federal jury in Columbia found Batesburg sheriff Lynwood Shull not-guilty of beating African American World War II Army veteran Isaac Woodard. Judge J. Waties Waring condemned the jury’s decision. Shull had beaten Woodard after arresting him on a bus in Batesburg on February 12. The attack left Woodard blind. The case sparked national outrage and helped gather support for civil rights legislation.
1947 – 1950
Summerton Challenges School Segregation
The campaign to challenge “separate but equal” education began in Clarendon County, South Carolina. The filing of Briggs v. Elliott (1951) would go on to be one of the five cases that made up the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) Supreme Court case.Read Story
July 7, 1947
Judge J. Waties Waring ruled in the case of Elmore v. Rice that the South Carolina Democratic Party could not keep African Americans from voting in the primary. In his comments, he declared, “it is time for South Carolina to rejoin the Union.”
July 12, 1947
Aided by the NAACP, John Wrighten sues to integrate the law school at the University of South Carolina. Rather than permit him to enter UofSC, the state of South Carolina funded the creation of a separate law school at segregated South Carolina State College.
At its annual convention, the PDP elected twenty-eight delegates to take its case for black inclusion as party members to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that summer.
July 15, 1948
After leading an exodus of “States’ Rights” Democrats from the Democratic National Convention floor in Philadelphia, Gov. Strom Thurmond addressed the first convention of Dixiecrats in Birmingham. He declared that there were “not enough troops in the Army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the Negro race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into school and into our homes.”
July 16, 1948
Exasperated with the Democratic Party’s continued refusal to abide by the Elmore ruling, Judge Waring issues an injunction mandating that the state Democratic Party open its membership rolls and allow all parties, without regard to “race, color, creed, or condition,” to participate in the August primary. Before the books closed, thirty-five thousand African Americans had registered as members of the Democratic Party.
August 10, 1948
African Americans vote in record numbers in the Democratic Party primary after Judge Waites Waring strikes down an oath requiring party members to swear to uphold segregation.
April 22, 1951
Tactics to Maintain Segregation
Hoping to prevent desegregation if Briggs v. Elliott was successful, South Carolina Governor James Byrnes signs a three-cent sales tax for education. This tax aims to equalize school facilities to avoid integration. This funding led to the construction of the auditorium building for Booker T. Washington High School in Columbia.
June 23, 1951
The South Carolina District Court rules in favor of the Clarendon County School Board in Briggs v. Elliott by 2-1 split decision. In his dissenting opinion, Judge Waring declares “segregation is per se inequality” and called upon the Supreme Court to render justice “for all men and all kinds of men.”
The city of Columbia desegregates its fire department, hiring eight black firemen. They operated the Harden Street fire station.
September 20, 1953
NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall visits Columbia for an appearance at Allen University. The South Carolina NAACP presents him with a $5000 check to support continued lawsuits for desegregation.
May 17, 1954
The Briggs v. Elliott case was combined with four other cases under the name Brown v. Board of Education when it was heard by the United States Supreme Court. In the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the Supreme Court declared state laws establishing segregated public schools unconstitutional.
June 22, 1954
Challenge to Segregation in Transportation
Sarah Mae Flemming, a young African American domestic worker from Eastover, was struck by a Columbia bus driver for sitting in a seat reserved for white passengers and ejected from the bus on the corner of Main and Washington streets. Local activist Modjeska Monteith Simkins assists Flemming in getting legal counsel from attorney Philip Wittenberg when she sues in Flemming v. South Carolina Electric and Gas. Matthew Perry and Lincoln C. Jenkins later serve as her lawyers.
February 16, 1955
NAACP lawyers Mathew J. Perry and Lincoln C. Jenkins file the lawsuit, Sarah Mae Flemming v. South Carolina Electric and Gas. The lawsuit was filed nearly ten months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
January 26, 1956
Over 3,500 people attend a Citizens Council rally at Columbia’s Township Auditorium. Segregationist Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland delivers the keynote address.
September 29, 1959
The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) meets in Columbia at the Township Auditorium and First Calvary Baptist Church. The meeting was organized by Ella Baker. SCLC President Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the meeting.
February 1, 1960
Four students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College sit down at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, inspiring other young people to do the same. Among the four students were two from Columbia, Mark Martin and Talmadge Martin. African American students in Columbia would follow their lead and begin their own sit-in campaign the next month.
March 2, 1960
Student Sit-ins Begin in Columbia
Approximately 50 students from Allen University and Benedict College conduct the first sit-in protests in Columbia at the Woolworth and S.H. Kress department stores. Later sit-ins result in two major United States Supreme Court cases that uphold the rights of demonstrators in Bouie v. City of Columbia and Barr v. City of Columbia.
March 3, 1960
Five hundred students gathered to protest; nearly two hundred of these students marched to the main business center of the city where businesses closed in preparation for their arrival.
March 5, 1960
SCSMA is formed
The South Carolina Student Movement Association (SCSMA) is formed, leading to several major demonstrations throughout downtown Columbia, SC.
March 10, 1960
Governor Ernest F. Hollings warned students at Benedict College and Allen University that they would be arrested if they participated in a planned “pilgrimage” to the State House on March 11. The presidents of Benedict and Allen, John McCray, and other African American leaders publicly declared their opposition to the planned protest and the larger sit-in campaign. The SCSMA called off the protest.
March 14, 1960
Bouie v City of Columbia
Two African American college students, Simon Bouie of Allen University and Talmadge Neal of Benedict College, led a protest march to the Eckerd’s luncheonette. The pair, inspired by student sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, were jailed and convicted for refusing to leave their seats after being denied service due to their race. In Bouie v. Columbia (1964), the United States Supreme Court overturned the students’ convictions. The sit-in demonstration was part of broader protest movements against racial segregation in Columbia and the nation.
March 15, 1960
Major Demonstration in Orangeburg
In one of the largest demonstrations in the country, over a thousand students from SC State and Claflin University protested segregated stores in downtown Orangeburg. Local police responded to the massive demonstration with tear gas and water hoses and arrested over 350 students who were imprisoned in an outside stockade. The protest and arrests were reported on the front page of the New York Times.
March 15, 1960
Barr v City of Columbia
Charles Barr, Johnny Clark, Richard Counts, Milton Greene, and David Carr conducted a sit-in at Taylor’s Drugstore in Columbia. They were arrested for trespassing for sitting at the whites-only lunch counter. The United States Supreme Court overturned their convictions in Barr v. City of Columbia. The case was part of a group of cases, including Bouie v. City of Columbia that upheld the rights of sit-in demonstrators.
February 5, 1961
The South Carolina Council on Human Relations Student Council hosts its first student workshop at Allen University. The theme was “The Role of the Student in Achieving Human Rights,” and featured a keynote address from noted civil rights organizer Ella Baker.
February 18, 1961
Mounting pressure from the black community and the arrest of student demonstrators at bus stations force the Greyhound bus terminal in Columbia to serve customers on an equal basis.
March 2, 1961
Protesters Arrested at State House March
190 protesters were arrested following an NAACP-planned demonstration on the South Carolina State House grounds. A lawsuit filed on their behalf–Edwards v. South Carolina— reached the United States Supreme Court. On February 25, 1963, the court ruled that the 14th Amendment forbids a state “to make criminal the peaceful expression of unpopular views,” and helped demonstrations nationwide.
March 5, 1961
Student Leader Stabbed
Benedict College students Lennie Glover and David Carter were on a routine check of a sit-in at Woolworth’s when Glover was stabbed by an unknown assailant. He eventually recovered and returned to rejoin demonstrations.
March 24-26, 1961
In response to the Glover stabbing, African American students led a boycott of Main Street businesses. The “Easter Lennie Glover No Buying Campaign” featured daily picketing and sit-ins.
May 10, 1961
Freedom Rides, organized by the Congress on Racial Equality, arrived in Columbia on May 10. With white and black riders on buses, they intended to test the federal desegregation of interstate travel. They faced violence in Rock Hill and Winnsboro, South Carolina before they arrived in Columbia.
Confederate Flag Raised Over State House
State legislators vote to raise the Confederate Battle Flag atop the State House.
August 24, 1962
Downtown Columbia businesses desegregate their lunch counters.
January 9, 1963
In his final speech as Governor, Ernest F. Hollings states that the day of segregation has passed. He calls for the integration process to be handled “with dignity.”
January 28, 1963
Desegregation of Clemson University
Accompanied by Columbia attorney Matthew Perry, Harvey Gantt, a native of Charleston, arrives at Clemson University and enrolls as the first African American student.
April 17, 1963
Malcolm X Visits
After being denied permission to speak at the Township Auditorium, Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X gives a fiery address at a mosque in Columbia. He bitterly denounced Columbia’s political leaders and African American supporters of integration.Read Story
April 25, 1963
Robert F. Kennedy Speaks at UofSC
United States Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy speaks at the University of South Carolina. In his speech, he explained that “the practical needs of the world today would compel our national government…to do everything possible to eliminate racial discrimination.” African American students welcomed him at the airport with signs reading “Welcome to S.C. Land of Segregation and Discrimination.”
May 20, 1963
Over 1,000 University of South Carolina students participate in an anti-integration rally on the campus where a cross is burned in protest. After crowds are dispersed on the Horseshoe a group of students march to the State House chanting “We don’t want to integrate.”
June 5, 1963
Rev. I. DeQuincey Newman announces that the NAACP will stage massive demonstrations in eight S.C. cities unless negotiations begin to “solve racial differences.”
July 10, 1963
In the Brown v. South Carolina Forestry Commission decision, Judge Robert Martin orders all state parks in the state to desegregate within sixty days. Instead, the South Carolina Forestry Commission closes all of the state’s parks.
August 1, 1963
Mayor Forms Committee of 50
In response to continued protests and legal challenges to segregation, Columbia Mayor Lester Bates formed the interracial “Committee of 50.” The “Committee of 50” in Columbia votes to urge the city council to adopt a non-discriminatory hiring policy. The biracial committee was formed to help negotiate integration in the city. In 1964, it was renamed the Columbia Community Relations Council.
August 12, 1963
Leading Columbia merchants announce that they have removed all segregation signs from water fountains, restrooms, and dressing rooms, and agree to adopt non-racial employment policies.
August 28, 1963
Sumter NAACP chairman James T. McCain serves as a key organizer for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Columbia residents number among the hundreds of thousands of people who heard Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders speak at the Lincoln memorial.
September 9-10, 1963
Columbia experiences its first protest marches in over a year, as twenty-three blacks are arrested during a demonstration along Main Street. The next day, sixty blacks march along the same street but avoid arrest.
September 11, 1963
Henrie Monteith, James Solomon, and Robert Anderson enrolled as the first African American students at the University of South Carolina since the era of Reconstruction.
September 12, 1963
As protest marches continue in Columbia, the “Committee of 50” adopts a resolution calling on motel, hotel, and theater owners to desegregate. Later this month, the Downtowner Motel (corner of Lady and Main streets) agrees to do so.
September 22, 1963
Following the murders of three young girls in Birmingham, Alabama in a church bombing, over 1,000 people in Columbia took part in a memorial march. Beginning at Sidney Park CME church, they marched to the South Carolina State House where they sang “We Shall Overcome.”
November 18-19, 1963
The annual meeting of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations is held in the newly desegregated Downtowner Hotel in Columbia.
December 20, 1963
Reverend I. DeQuincey Newman announces that more demonstrations will be held despite objections from the “Committee of 50.”
June 22, 1964
The United States Supreme Court reverses the convictions of Simon Bouie, Talmadge Neal, Charles Barr and the other participants in the “sit-in” protests of March 1960. The decisions in the two cases, Simon Bouie, et al v. City of Columbia and Charles Barr, et al v. City of Columbia, make it illegal to charge individuals with trespassing without prior warning.
Schools Desegregate in Columbia
Over ten years after the ruling of Brown v Board of Education, the desegregation of Catholic and public schools begin in Columbia. Schools in Charleston had been forced to desegregate by court order the year before.
April 29, 1965
The South Carolina NAACP leads a march from Allen University to the South Carolina State House to protest racial and class discrimination in the implementation of the Economic Opportunity Act.
July 20, 1966
South Carolina parks reopen as fully integrated facilities.
March 31, 1967
The Columbia Urban League is established.
Black United for Action, Inc. is chartered.
February 8, 1968
Following the protest against a segregated bowling alley two days before, hundreds of students gathered on the campus of South Carolina State. Highway patrolmen opened fire on the unarmed students killing three and injuring dozens more. Activist Cleveland Sellers was the only individual arrested and convicted as the instigator of the massacre. He was pardoned 25 years later.
March 13, 1968
Student Response to The Orangeburg Massacre
African American students from across South Carolina demonstrate at the State House in response to the Orangeburg Massacre.
November 27, 1969
The United Citizens Party is organized in South Carolina due to the Democratic Party’s refusal to nominate black candidates and support legislation to improve economic conditions.
The court ordered desegregation of 21 South Carolina school districts begins. The following month, black and white students clash at A.C. Flora High School in Columbia. Over the next few years, racial skirmishes are commonplace in high schools across the state.
Herbert Fielding of Charleston and I. S. Leevy Johnson and James Felder of Columbia become the first African Americans elected to the State House of Representatives since Reconstruction.
Beaufort, S.C. native and World Heavyweight Champion “Smokin’” Joe Frazier addresses the State Legislature, calling for racial reconciliation and tolerance among the state’s citizens.
November 5, 1974
Juanita Goggins of Rock Hill becomes the first black woman elected to the State Legislature.
September 22, 1979
Matthew Perry becomes the first African American federal judge in South Carolina history.
April 5, 1983
Luther Battiste, III and E.W. Cromartie, II are sworn in as the first African American members of the Columbia City Council.
November 3, 1992
James E. Clyburn is elected to the United States House of Representatives.
May 11, 1994
Ernest A. Finney is appointed the Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court.
After a lengthy protest campaign, the South Carolina State Legislature decreed that the Confederate Battle Flag atop the State House would be moved to a ceremonial plot on the capitol grounds. The NAACP declared that its statewide tourism boycott would continue until it is permanently removed.
March 29, 2001
The South Carolina African American monument is dedicated on the State House grounds.
April 3, 2002
Tameika Isaac Devine is elected as the first African American woman to serve on the Columbia City Council and the council’s first African American member elected at-large.
April 20, 2010
Steve Benjamin, a graduate of USC Law School and former director of the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, wins a run-off election to become Columbia’s first African American mayor. Running on the campaign theme “One Columbia: Unity, Hope, and Promise.”
July 15, 2015
The Confederate Flag Comes Down
Following the murder of nine worshipers at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill to authorize the removal of the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the South Carolina State House.
Help us fill in the gaps.
Too many of Columbia’s pivotal moments and landmark decisions have been forgotten. Too many of our stories have never been heard. A complete rendering of South Carolina’s Civil Rights Movement and its dramatic impact on the quest for democracy and social justice does not exist.
By gathering images, artifacts, and testimony, the mission of the Columbia SC 63 project is to ensure that a more accurate and expansive history becomes familiar to all. The stories of those who lived it, are touched by it, and continue to tell it are integral to this project, and we want to hear from you.
Take a moment to type your story and submit it here, and become a part of the Columbia SC 63 project.