People wake up! We must save a very important part of our history.
At the time when there was a lot of racial tension throughout the country and in Orangeburg, we couldn’t enjoy life like everyone else. So we developed areas for our own businesses since we really weren’t welcome in others. There were distinct areas for brown people — the West End, Goff Avenue and the East End. This was established before the Civil Rights Movement.
One of the most important and historical structures on the corner, called Railroad Corner, is where The State Theater, an African-American theater that operated from around 1949 to 1955, was located. It was operated by the Booker Theaters Chain. The building next door was the Popular College Soda Shop. These businesses thrived through the Civil Rights Movement and after.
The City of Orangeburg is planning to demolish the corner, including the building that once housed The State Theater. The city wants to build a new project called the Gateway to Orangeburg.
When you erase your history, you have nothing to look back to and nothing to look forward to your future. You have to know where you have been to know where you are going.
For the city to take charge into demolishing a building with this historical value is unjust to the citizens of Orangeburg. The city was sent a letter from the Orangeburg Historical Society about preserving the legacy of The State Theater, but at this present time, they haven’t received a response.
This is one more plague to erase the history of a people. We no longer have the West End. We no longer have the businesses on Golf Avenue. The only place we have left is the East End, which is the Railroad Comer.
I never thought I would see the city turn its back on the citizens of Orangeburg -- past and present. We need The State Theater as standing proof of what happened to a race of people in Orangeburg, South Carolina. If we get funding from the city, county and at the state level, there are grants for historical preservation for buildings. This is a building that should be on the historic registry.
And what could the building be used for? If we can ﬁnd theater seats from that era, it could once again be The State Theater or an event venue. Most of all, the absolute perfect use for this building would be the Orangeburg City and County Black History Museum.
It could feature photographs from the beginning of our struggles as a race of people up to today, including music, newspaper articles, video footage and other exhibits. And it could capture what happened directly across the tracks from The State Theater: “The Orangeburg Massacre.”
For me, I’m a visionary. There is nothing wrong with mixing old and new. We need to preserve the old but look forward to the future with the addition of new buildings. I myself have brought this issue before the Orangeburg City Council.
To the leaders of the city and county government of Orangeburg, don’t you think it’s time for you to listen to citizens who have Orangeburg’s best interests at heart?
For a city the size of Orangeburg, tearing down The State Theater is like tearing down the Apollo Theatre in New York City. Once you destroy a part of history, you can’t replace it and you can’t bring it back. If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.
William Green is from Orangeburg. He states: "If this editorial resonates with you, please contact me at (803) 347-5754."
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