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Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum receives $50,000 grant

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Williams Civil Rights Museum (copy)

The Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum has received a $50,000 grant to continue preserving African American history. Williams stands in front of one of the exhibits, including a picture of himself drinking from a “whites only” water fountain.

As a photographer, Williams has helped preserve the African American experience during the second half of the 20th century.

The museum is located in Orangeburg. While its official opening was delayed by COVID-19, the museum attracted more than 9,000 visitors during its brief period of operation.

The four other museums that received $50,000 grants included:

The Mothers of Gynecology Monument in Montgomery, Alabama

The Thiokol Memorial Project in Woodbine, Georgia

The Fannie Lou Hamer Civil Rights Museum in Belzoni, Mississippi

The Zora Neale Hurston National Museum of Fine Arts in Eatonville, Florida.

The SPLC worked with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to identify five institutions that are central to advancing essential programming in the preservation of African American history.

During a virtual awards program held Tuesday, U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn said he supported funding the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum because he considers Williams a staunch chronicler of history.

“When I graduated high school back in 1957 and arrived on the campus of South Carolina State (College), I met Cecil Williams. Now, Cecil we all looked at a little bit strangely. He was always running around with cameras on his shoulders, mostly next door at Claflin University,” Clyburn said.

It wasn’t long before Clyburn became involved in the struggle for justice and equality himself, meeting Williams for a second time in Atlanta, where he met other civil rights leaders such as John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr.

“It was in October of 1960 that I went to Atlanta after having gone up to Raleigh, North Carolina in the spring of that year for what was the first meeting of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. We met for the second time in October there in Atlanta,” he said.

Clyburn continued, “When we got back to the campus, we decided that we were going to continue our activities there in Orangeburg. The one thing that was constant with all of our activities was Cecil Williams and his cameras.

“He recorded almost everything that we were doing regarding the civil rights activities not just there in Orangeburg, but wherever it was. … Wherever there is something taking place, there was Cecil Williams taking pictures.”

Clyburn supported the grant to show appreciation for the museum’s mission, which Williams has said is to recognize and pay tribute to South Carolinians who engaged in historically significant events in the state, including during the civil rights movement.

“I just thought that when he undertook to pull together a museum there in Orangeburg, it was a mammoth undertaking. This was an opportunity to show my appreciation for all that he did to record in pictures what was going on. I want to thank the Southern Poverty Law Center for agreeing to support this museum,” the congressman said. “When people learn better, they’ll do better, and that’s what museums are all about: educating people so they can learn better.”

Williams thanked the SPLC and Clyburn for their support of his museum.

“I am certainly grateful to Congressman Clyburn and the Southern Poverty Law Center, especially since more than 25 years ago, I had the pleasure of contributing three pictures of three individuals who perished in the event known as the Orangeburg Massacre: students who were killed by highway patrolmen during an effort to integrate a bowling alley,” Williams said.

He said Clyburn has been lifetime guardian of Black history, as well as the country and the nation’s democracy.

“I am so proud that we here in South Carolina can call him our home boy,” Williams said.

He said the grant will be beneficial to his mission.

“This is the kind of assistance and funding that we need to help to sustain the history that I have gathered. Before the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum in Orangeburg, the state of South Carolina did not have a single museum that really told our story,” Williams said.

He continued, “This was something that must be done. It comes at the culmination of me working towards this goal for more than 30 years. Finally, I have again put together resources, and now I believe I have the largest collection of civil rights memorabilia, photographs and documents. We’re also positioned to work with the other museums in this state to really, in a collective way, tell our story.”

Williams said the state’s African American history is not as widely known as it should be.

“We contributed so much to the American struggle for freedom and justice and equality and to bring this country into accepting all people, but our story has not been told,” he said.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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