The Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum in Orangeburg has another historical gem.
J.A. DeLaine Jr., now living in Charlotte, North Carolina, recently donated an original letter written by his father, the Rev. J.A. DeLaine, a civil rights pioneer from Clarendon County.
On the fading letter, DeLaine’s typewritten words about an incident 65 years ago ring out across the years: “Around eleven-thirty P.M., a car passing in front of my home, a number of shots were fired from it. I answered their fire with two shots aimed at the automobile in an attempt to mark the car of the culprits responsible for the incidents.”
“The Oct. 13, 1955, letter – 50 lines on cotton paper, rapidly turning tan – describes Delaine’s decision to leave South Carolina in haste and under duress,” Cecil Williams said. “Afterwards, a warrant was issued for his arrest for returning gunfire when his parsonage came under hostile gunfire. He fled to New York City, and because of his efforts in the Briggs v. Elliott case, was never allowed to return to South Carolina.”
In 2004, Delaine and three other plaintiffs in the Briggs v. Elliott case were posthumously awarded Congressional gold medals for their courage and persistence despite repeated acts of violence against them.
The Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum is acquiring items pertinent to the era of the civil rights movement. It is working to locate and preserve documents that relate to the African American experience in South Carolina from 1950 to 1970.
“We are not only seeking documents of public figures, but also ordinary individuals whose records reveal the experience of ‘grassroots people in South Carolina,’” said Williams, founder of the first and only civil rights museum in the Palmetto State.
Presently, including photographs of major events, the museum includes about 20,000 items; the largest source of South Carolina civil rights history available anywhere. Williams’ film archives, presently being scanned at Claflin University where he is the director of historic preservation, is estimated to be about 250,000 images. Before COVID-19, student interns were involved in the project sponsored by Gaylord Donnelley Foundation.
“Our history is rapidly disappearing because of age, generational change and neglect,” Williams said. “To address the loss, we have launched a nationwide search reaching out to everyone to assist in this noble endeavor. Of course, our museum needs financial donations, but we are also now seeking physical artifacts, documents, manuscripts, photographs, film negatives and printed materials.”
Newspaper clippings are not included in the search. The idea behind the museum’s mission is to collect, preserve and document the history, heritage and culture of African Americans in South Carolina.
“If you are unable to donate a historical item as an outright gift, we could arrange a mutually agreeable loan for a specified period of time,” Williams said. “One advantage of donating to our museum is we will actually display items in collections rather than just place it in acid-free archival storage that may never be viewed by the public.”
To discuss potential history-related donations, individuals are encouraged to write or call Cecil Williams at 803-531-1662.
“South Carolina history is vitally important to Black America’s struggle for equality,” Williams said. “Archived materials are the essential sources for historical research and provide scholars, researchers and the public valuable information, details and perspectives on the history of African American communities.”
In particular, the museum seeks historically significant items such as diaries, photographs, high school and college yearbooks, letters, NAACP and church records, signs and symbols of segregation and racism, jail house paraphernalia, and personal letters and correspondences.
Since opening in March 2019, the museum has acquired other rare and valuable historical items.
In September 2019, the Briggs Family Bible, one of the most coveted artifacts of the civil rights movement era, was placed in the museum by members of the Briggs family of Summerton (Clarendon County). Nathaniel Briggs and Catherine Eliza Briggs Smith, son and daughter of Harry Briggs Sr., original petitioner in the Briggs v. Elliott school desegregation case, were on hand to make the presentation.
In part, the search effort by the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum is being made possible through generous donations from Dominion Energy, Volvo, S.C. Humanities and Red Olive Creative Consulting.
“Through their gifts, to preserve items for future use and public sharing, we have purchased air purifiers, archival equipment and our facilities will be maintained in a climate-controlled atmosphere,” Williams said.