Arts & Culture

University of South Carolina exhibit illuminates South Carolina’s pivotal role in Civil Rights Movement

A new exhibit featuring hundreds of items from the University of South Carolina’s special collections tells the story of the state’s fundamental role in the national Civil Rights Movement.

Opening Feb. 7, “Justice for All: South Carolina and the American Civil Rights Movement” uses oral history recordings, film clips, photographs, postcards, diaries and manuscripts to highlight largely overlooked chapters in the history of the movement. “Justice for All” is the work of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina, in partnership with the University of South Carolina Libraries and the College of Arts and Sciences, with grant funding from South Carolina Humanities.

“Students and visitors to the exhibit will be able to see how individuals and institutions in the state pushed for the movement for equal rights that brought about change in South Carolina and across the country,” said Dr. Bobby Donaldson, professor of history and the Director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research. “The materials cover a broad time span, from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and range from manuscript correspondence from Coretta Scott King and Jackie Robinson, to publications from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, to telegrams sent from the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan to Governor Robert McNair. Audio recordings from University Libraries’ Office of Oral History, including interviews with civil rights activists, and footage from the Moving Image Research Collections of demonstrations and press conferences will allow visitors to see and hear firsthand the struggles of those who pushed for equal rights and the efforts of those who worked to curtail them.”

Presented for the first time in one venue, the exhibit items fill 30 glass cases and utilize all the exhibit spaces in the Thomas Cooper Library and the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library. A visual narrative is also told through specially-designed posters, elevator door wraps, and directional signage featuring noted civil rights activists.

Visitors will see items from additional collections at University Libraries, including South Carolina Political Collections, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the Music Library, and South Caroliniana Library.

Major themes explored in the exhibit include voting rights, educational justice and desegregation.

“Desegregation resistance is part of the Civil Rights Movement story, and the exhibit addresses that resistance with material on the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow Laws,” said Dr. Michael Weisenburg, Outreach Librarian in the Irvin Department and the exhibit’s facilitator. “Not everyone is on the right side of history. We need to remember that this happened, that there were those who sided against racial equality, and that we continue to fight for civil rights on many levels.”

“Justice for All” will be on exhibit Feb. 7 through Aug. 2, 2019. Several public events will take place during that time, connecting the exhibit to significant anniversaries, such as the 50th anniversary of the Charleston Hospital Workers’ strike. Invited scholars, civil rights veterans and contemporary activists will share their work and experiences through public talks. The exhibit will be open on multiple Saturdays for weekend viewing and guided tours.

A free, public event to launch the opening of the exhibit takes place from 6 – 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 7 in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library. The special invited speaker for the evening is Dr. Cleveland Sellers, Jr.,a veteran civil rights activist, former Director of the USC African American Studies Program and former President of Voorhees College.

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