BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Orangeburg’s Earl F. Cummings was entrepreneur
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BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Orangeburg’s Earl F. Cummings was entrepreneur

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In the history of Orangeburg County, the citizens both black and white have worked hand in hand together since 1704.

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Although, the role that blacks played was very different than that of the whites when they settled into this part of South Carolina, it took both groups to develop and mold Orangeburg County into what we have today. From that, this county has enjoyed a rich and certainly a most exciting history of the people working together.

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When we extract the role of some of the blacks, you will find evidence of the many accomplishments that they have made in adding greatness to our county. One of the blacks who provided great service to the people of our county was Mr. Earl Cummings, the owner of Cummings Bicycle Shop.

Earl Cummings was born in 1900. The 1910 census listed him as being 10 years old and the son of Johnny and Mary Salley and living in Bowman. It is believed that Mr. Salley was not the father of Cummings. The family was living in Bowman and Earl was listed as a 10-year-old mulatto.

In 1918, he was drafted into the military during World War I. His date of birth was listed

During the beginning of the selective draft process, both black and white men were chosen to become soldiers that would comprise our military. These men were trained to protect the citizens of the United States of America.

When Congress enacted this procedure, Gov. Richard Manning refused to allow the black draftees to be trained at Camp Jackson and throughout South Carolina. His opinion did not last long because the provost marshal general threatened to take the United States military operations from the state.

In a breakdown of the drafted men from Orangeburg County in World War I, there were 1,576 whites and 3,234 blacks.

By 1920, Cummings was discharged from the Army and returned home to live with his family. He was listed as living in Middle Township in the census of 1920. At that time, his mother had remarried and was 44 years old. Cummings was listed on the census as a stepson.

In 1922, Earl Cummings ventured into the selling of bicycles and repairing guns. He opened his shop on Market Street. Some years later, he would relocate on the lower end of Russell Street and operated at that spot up until his death.

When Cummings set up his bicycle shop, it is believed that he became one of the first blacks in Orangeburg to open such a business. Knowing that all boys and girls were wishing and writing Santa Claus to bring them a bicycle for Christmas, Cummings posted advertisements in The T&D.

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On Dec. 19, 1939, the ad stated: “Santa Says---Give Them A new Columbia Bicycles—OH BOY! —I hate to get off your Columbia Bicycle because it rides so much better than mine. I’m going to ask Dad to get me a Columbia Bicycle for Christmas … they’ve been leaders of the bicycle world for 60 years and you can get them at Cummings Repair Shop. The Most Complete Line of Bicycles in The City. Cummings Repair Shop, Market Street, Phone 9190.”

During this time, the Columbia Bicycles were known as one of the top-of-the-line companies in America. It was founded in 1877 and was located in Westfield, Massachusetts. The Columbia Bicycle Company’s motto was, “AMERICA’S FIRST AND FINEST BICYCLE-QUALITY IS OUR MOST IMPORTANT PRODUCT.”

Mr. Cummings must have had great insight on the bicycle business for him to move into this type of venture. His choice to sell such a high line and popular item like the Columbia Bicycle shows his astuteness and professionalism as a businessman. Throughout the years of selling bicycles, he made sure that the people in Orangeburg were constantly reminded that he was still in business by way of his advertisements in The T&D.

On Nov. 26, 1943, The T&D posted one of his ads -- “Notice-Will the lady in the Cameron section that bought a blue girl’s bicycle Tuesday from Cummings Bicycle Shop please get in touch with Mr. Cummings at once. Urgent.”

For Cummings to place such an ad to contact one of his customers, it is clear evidence of the business character of the type of person that he was. Such an act as this displayed another way that he promoted his business during the Christmas season. Overall, he understood that treating his customers right was the right thing to do.

Cummings also understood the economic, social and political environment in operating a business and being black in America and in this place where he lived. Mr. Earl was able to maneuver between the many obstacles of that time.

On Nov. 2, 1952, The T&D ran an ad Cummings placed in memory of his mother. From this notice, it is very obvious that Cummings had a deep affection and love for his mother. It stated, “In loving memory of My Dear Mother Mrs. Mary Moorer who died Nov. 27th 1951, Son, Earl Cummings.”

On May 4, 1970, the T & D reported Cummings’ obituary: “Earl F. Cummings -- Earl Franklin Cummings, local machinist and bicycle merchant since 1922, died April 30 at the Orangeburg Regional Hospital following an extended illness.

“Survivors include the widow, Mrs. Hattie Able Cummings; two sons, Herbert Earl and Jesse James Cummings; five grandchildren, all of Orangeburg.

“Funeral service will be at St. Paul Baptist Church, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. The body will be in the church at 3 p.m. Burial will be in the Belleville Memorial Gardens. Jones Funeral Home is in charge.”

Over the years that Earl Cummings operated his business in Orangeburg, it is very apparent that he left a distinguished mark in this community that could not be overlooked in our history.

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In his business of operating Cummings Bicycle Shop for those many years, he served many black and white patrons who used his business to purchase bicycles, tricycles and his repair service that brought about great enjoyment and joy for their children.

Earl F. Cummings departed this life, and,when he took flight away, his contributions to Orangeburg County became etched in stone. He served us well.

Richard Reid is president of the Orangeburg Historical and Genealogical Society. His mission is researching Orangeburg history, with a particular emphasis on the role of African Americans in that history.


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