033017 The March: Effort to bridge racial divide takes first steps
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The March: Effort to bridge racial divide takes first steps

- By Nikki Best
Coastal Observer

The bugs are waking up. It’s that time of year. The weather is pleasant, spring clouds keep it from getting too hot and a light breeze comes in from the water. But the bugs are starting to zip around.

“Imagine pulling someone over in the dead of summer,” a Georgetown police officer said. He would be devoured by insects.

A crowd of Georgetown residents, and friends from across the rivers, braved the blossoming swarms Saturday afternoon at Winyah Auditorium to participate in the first event planned by Georgetown Unity Alliance, The Melting Pot March.

“As long as the first person knows where we’re going, we’re OK,” Al Joseph, a City Council member, said.

Joseph serves as the chairman of the Georgetown Unity Alliance. He and his seven counterparts came together last fall to try to locally tackle a persistent local and national problem: the racial divide.

“I realized that we’ve got a disconnect here in the city of Georgetown and I wanted to do something about it,” he said.

The route of the march followed a path between the old Winyah High School, for white students and the old Howard High School, for black students. In 1981 the city still supported two segregated high schools. This might seem too recent, Brown v. Board of Education was settled in 1954. Most of America dealt with integration and the repeal of the “separate, but equal” doctrine in the 1960s and 1970s.

“My first teaching job was at Howard in 1978,” Pat DeLeone, a school board member, said. “They combined Howard and Winyah in 1984.”

She moved from Ohio to Georgetown 38 years ago. She and some of her family participated in the march. DeLeone’s young grandson danced along the route of the march with his poster, enamored with the fire truck that followed at the back of the march. He’s been waiting two weeks for this, she said.

“I really feel that we all need to support diversity,” DeLeone said. “They go to school here so it’s important.”

Only a mile separates the schools, a 20 minute walk if you took your time. Unity alliance committee member Cynthia Hazel was born and raised in Georgetown. She loves her city, but knows there’s work to be done.

“There are lots of things that happen in Georgetown, lots of events,” she said. “But it’s divided.”

Hazel joined the unity alliance to advocate for community togetherness and for a chance to get to know places and people of Georgetown she hasn’t met yet.

“I hoped it would do just what it’s doing now,” she said, gesturing to the crowd in front of the Winyah Auditorium, once the main building of the old high school.

As of 2015, the 60,000 citizens of the county were 67 percent white and 32 percent black. The march was not about protest. It was about creating harmony within the geography of the city. It was about love, unity and coming together as citizens of Georgetown, Hazel said.

Linda Burns and her husband relocated to the area last fall for retirement. Burns and her husband are from Nashville, but traveled all over before settling on Georgetown. She loves to walk and he loves golf, but it was more than that.

“People don’t understand what it is to live without it,” Burns said. “I was very nervous living with a purely gentrified population, where everybody is exactly the same.”

She says that’s how it was where they lived in Florida. It made her nervous. She wanted to live where there were children, where there were people of different colors and people who thought differently than they did. It’s diversity, she said. So she marched.

“It’s a good thing and that’s worth working to preserve,” Burns said.

At the end of the march, Joseph thanked the almost 200 people who made the trek and encouraged them to stay to “meet someone you’ve never met before.”

Georgetown Unity Alliance will keep taking steps in the right direction and hopes to hold another event this fall.

“We had a large crowd,” Joseph said. “More importantly, we had a diverse crowd.”

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