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.


African Americans gained significant political power after the 1868 Constituion.

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. 

African American women attended the teacher's school on the UofSC campus.

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.

Robert Smalls was one of the few African Americans at the convention.

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.

I.S. Leevy was among the leaders who helped form the earliest branches in South Carolina.

February 1917

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 speaks to an audience.


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.

E.A. Adams (center seated) helped form the Negro Citizens Committee.

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.

PDP founder John McCray (left) stands with Pete Ingram, J.C. Artemus, and James Hinton.

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.

George Stinney's mugshot after his arrest.

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.”

Albert Thompson successfully sued for equal pay to white teachers.

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 stands in front of his Gervais St. business in downtown Columbia.

Summer 1946

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.

Harold Boulware served as the lawyer in a number of major civil rights cases.

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.

Paul Robeson (on the left) arrives in Columbia to speak at the Southern Negro Youth Congress

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.

Isaac Woodard after his blinding by Lynwood Shull.

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.

Harry Briggs, Jr., center in the above photo, discusses the Briggs v. Elliott case.

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.

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Judge J. Waties Waring supported civil rights in his rulings.

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.”

John Wrighten sued UofSC to attend the law school.

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.

June 1948

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.

Strom Thurmond led opposition to integration in South Carolina.

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.

African Americans line up to vote in 1948.

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. 


Governor James Byrnes supported a sales tax to maintain segregated schools.

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.”

Firemen at the Harden Street Station.

May 1953

The city of Columbia desegregates its fire department, hiring eight black firemen. They operated the Harden Street fire station.

Thurgood Marshall (right) on stage at Allen University.

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

School Desegregation

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.

Sarah Mae Flemming stands in front of a bus like the one she was ejected from.

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.

Sarah Mae Flemming (second from left) is joined by attorneys Lincoln C. Jenkins and Matthew J. Perry. Julia Elizabeth King, who testified on Flemming’s behalf, stands next to her.

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.

Rally attendees fill the Township Auditorium.

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.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (left) shakes hands with Charles Gomillion in Columbia.

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.

Students participate in a sit-in in downtown Columbia.

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.

Student demonstrators in downtown 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.

Speakers on stage at a rally at Allen University.

March 5, 1960

SCSMA is formed

The South Carolina Student Movement Association (SCSMA) is formed, leading to several major demonstrations throughout downtown Columbia, SC.

Demonstrators sit down at lunch counters in Columbia as part of the sit-in movement.

March 7, 1960

Student Sit-in

The South Carolina Council on Human Relations (SCCHR) announced the group’s support of the student led sit-in movement.

Governor Ernest Hollings discourages student protests.

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.

Simon Bouie is arrested at a sit-in.

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.

Charles McDew (right) leads demonstrators in Orangeburg.

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.

The men who conducted the sit-in.

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. 

Ella Baker spoke at Allen University.

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.

Demonstrators sit inside the Greyhound bus station in Columbia.

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.

Students demonstrate outside the South Carolina State House.

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.

Lennie Glover (center) attends a demonstration at the State House three days before he was stabbed.

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.

Charles Person, a Freedom Rider, reads a newspaper.

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.

Ernest Hollings urged integration "with dignity."

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.”

Harvey Gantt in downtown Columbia.

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.

Malcolm X speaks at a mosque in Columbia.

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.

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Robert F. Kennedy speaks about discrimination at the University of South Carolina.

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.”

I. DeQuincy Newmany (second from right) led the South Carolina NAACP in 1963.

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.

Henri Monteith successfully sued to enter the University of South Carolina

July 10, 1963

Court Desegregates the University of South Carolina

United States District Court Judge Martin orders the University of South Carolina to admit Henri Monteith for the fall semester. The university’s appeal is denied on July 22nd.

Mayor Lester Bates established the "Committee of 50."

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.

Student demonstrators march down Main Street in Columbia.

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.

The first African American students since Reconstruction register for classes at UofSC.

September 11, 1963

UofSC Desegregates

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.”

Director Alice Spearman (second from right) stands with other members of the SCCHR.

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.

An student arrives at a newly desegregated school.

September 1964

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.

Students rally at Allen University.

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.

Troops gather near the campus of South Carolina State.

February 8, 1968

Orangeburg Massacre

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.

Students demonstrate on the steps of the South Carolina State House.

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 School Desegregation Center at UofSC helped plan desegregation efforts.

September 1970

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.

The first African American legislators since Reconstruction confer.

November 1970

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.

Joe Frazier

April 1971

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.

Juanita Goggins

November 5, 1974

Juanita Goggins of Rock Hill becomes the first black woman elected to the State Legislature.

Matthew Perry

September 22, 1979

Matthew Perry becomes the first African American federal judge in South Carolina history.


Luther Battiste, III served as one of the first African Americans on the Columbia City Council.

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. 

Representative James Clyburn.

November 3, 1992

James E. Clyburn is elected to the United States House of Representatives.

Chief Justice Ernest A. Finney.

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.

The African American monument on the State House grounds.

March 29, 2001

The South Carolina African American monument is dedicated on the State House grounds.

Tameika Isaac Devine.

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.


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