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Community relations: March between once-segregated schools a first step

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

It’s less than a mile from the former Winyah High campus to the former Howard High campus, but if Al Joseph can get a large and diverse crowd to walk that distance he thinks Georgetown County will be on the way toward healing long-standing racial divisions. “We have a very clear divide,” Joseph said. “We don’t have the overt animosity you see in other areas, and I thank God for that.”

But Joseph, a Georgetown native in his first term on City Council, said he decided something needed to be done after he found himself the only white person at the city’s 2016 Martin Luther King Day celebration. “It kind of struck me,” he said. Joseph recruited six others to form the Georgetown Unity Alliance, which is organizing the Melting Pot March on March 25.

The significance of the route isn’t lost on other long-time residents. Winyah was the white high school for students in the city and the Waccamaw Neck. Howard was the black school. Court-order desegregation changed that in the 1960s, but not completely. And Georgetown County public schools still operate under federal oversight.

“I’m excited,” said Harold Jean Brown, a former school board member who now serves on the state Human Relations Commission. She was among the first black students to integrate Winyah High, where she graduated in 1968. Brown helped form the county Community Relations Council in 2015. Its members agreed this week to support the Melting Pot March. The council planned to screen the film “Selma” about the 1965 civil rights march in February, but will now try to tie that into the Georgetown march.

Joseph was in the last class to graduate from Winyah High before the main building was destroyed by an arson fire in 1981. It merged with Howard at the new Georgetown High campus in 1985. “The symbolism is pretty strong there,” he said of the planned route of the march. He hopes it will draw people from around the county and as far as Myrtle Beach and Charleston. The march will end with an educational program that is still being developed and a pileau dinner.

“The world’s not going to change. If we can just start a conversation, that’s all we want,” Joseph said.

That’s what the Community Relations Council wants, too, said Ronda Green, who chairs the group. It has 19 members representing local government, the Chamber of Commerce and the Georgetown Ministerial Alliance. Its meeting this week was its first public session. It invited the community to come talk about what changes people want to see in 2017. Only Joseph and three others showed up.

“Don’t count the numbers; make the numbers count,” Brown said. The council’s goal is to build alliances and she believes that is what’s happening.

Andrea Johnson, co-owner of Aunny’s Country Kitchen, asked the council to help her develop their Thanksgiving dinner into a community feast. She and her husband began serving free dinners when the opened the restaurant on Front Street nine years ago. “Each year it has grown,” she said. The last two years, donations covered all their costs and over 500 meals were served.

“We want to see Georgetown come together as a whole,” she said. “We are very passionate about it.”

Leonard Nelson, a council member from Pawleys Island and a retired school principal, said he was encouraged by the ideas, even if few in number. “We spent the first year trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Now we know there are other cogs in the wheel.”

That’s important because no single event will make a change, Joseph said. “It can’t be just one and done. We have to do this year after year,” he said.

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