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Weary Feet, Rested Souls - Jacket Design by Julie Metz. Jacket Photograph: Selma March c 1978 Matt Heron/Take Stock
Weary Feet, Rested Souls
Hardback published
January 1998
Jacket Design by Julie Metz.

Weary Feet, Rested Souls - paperback cover
Weary Feet, Rested Souls Paperback published
February 1999



Orangeburg's place in history examined
in new book on Civil Rights Movement

"Weary Feet, Rested Souls: A Guided History of the Civil Rights Movement," by Townsend Davis, 1998: W.W. Norton, 432 pages, $27.50 hardback


T&D Staff WriterThree decades have come and gone since the Civil Rights Movement was at its apex. Many memories have already faded, many records already have been lost and those who were on the front lines are slowly but steadily receding into history.

Coming of age are the new generations, who enjoy the benefits of civil rights but may not fully understand the sacrifices their ancestors made - lost jobs, blocked careers, arrests, jailings, trials and even violent deaths. Already, revisionist historians are putting their "spin" on those mementous events of the restless Sixties.

That's why "Weary Feet, Rested Souls" is such an important book, one that earns itself a place on every home's bookshelf.

Writing a biography of just one individual is a daunting task in itself. How does one possibly write about such a massive, fluid, evolving subject that rolls across the landscape like a tidal wave?

Townsend Davis, a journalist-turned-lawyer-turned-author, had searched for a book that would tell the stories of ordinary people as well as famous leaders, and would serve as a map for those who wished to see for themselves the sites where significant, but often overlooked, events took place.

Failing to find such a book, Davis set out to research and write one himself. More than 100 interviews and 30,000 miles later, Davis had the materials to write straightforward narratives of hundreds of pivotal events from 1954 to 1972 in seven Southern states.

Orangeburg gets 10-1/2 pages, complete with photos and a street map. The section is focused, to no one's surprise, on the fatal shootings of three youths on the campus of what was then called South Carolina State College.

The shooting "was one of the Movement's darkest hours," Davis wrote, "Whites misunderstood the growing impatience of black students with traditional protests against inequality and overreacted to it."

The incident "demonstrated that even after a dozen years of civil rights demonstrations, boycotts, lawsuits and legislation all across the South, no city or town was immune from racial violence," Davis wrote.

Separately, each narrative is short enough to be read in just a few minutes; together with photographs, maps, texts of key documents, a source list, a thorough index and finally a chronology to bring it all together, they form a rich tapestry of a controversial and troubling time in Southern history.

But the book itself may prove to be controversial and troubling, for the author does not try to fulfill his readers' preconceived notions.

Radicals may well be disappointed at the absence of revolutionary rhetoric and fervor in the book; Davis' sober deliberate, dispassionate, journalistic, scholarly tone is designed not to inflame passions, but to educate and inform.

Yet the book's benevolent portrayal of some of the more radical figures of the Movement — as freedom fighters who fell victim to the oppressive racist white power structure — is certain to offend those who blame those "rabble-rousers" for the ruination of society and yearn for a return to the "good old days" when schoolchildren could pray (a Christian prayer, of course; not Muslim!) and there was discipline (which meant, of course, a caste system based on birth and race in which people were expected to know their place and to not stray from it).

Those who generally try to surround themselves with amity and peace may tend to let bygones be bygones; why reopen old sores? But the current state of racial relations cannot be comprehended without an understanding of the Civil Rights Movement's legacy for both blacks and whites.

And that understanding must be accurate. That's why it was so painful to find several errors — small, but glaring - that one hopes will be corrected in subsequent printings.

A short sampling form the Orangeburg section:

The so-called "Orangeburg Massacre" was referred to as "The Other Kent State." The analogy is partly correct — in both instances, the governor had called in special law enforcement; youths were shot dead on a college campus; not all of the victims were college students; and in both cases it is still debated who had fired the first shot. However, the shooters in Orangeburg were (civilian) state highway troopers; in Ohio, they were (military) National Guardsmen. And although both issues inflamed passions in a turbulent era, the students in Orangeburg were mostly demonstrating for civil rights, while the Kent State students were mostly opposing the Vietnam war.


Davis writes that the impact of the Orangeburg shootings "was dulled by shoddy press accounts." But in fact, when the shooting erupted, at least three news photographers were there — two from The Associate Press and the publisher of The Times and Democrat. The next morning, The T&D gave the story the entire front page and additional space inside. In just the first 10 days after the shooting, The T&D devoted 2,000 column inches of space to the story. That doesn't seem very "shoddy" at all. As for the extent and quality of the coverage elsewhere in the nation, one wonders if Davis realized that the technology didn't exist 30 years ago to produce today's thick, full-color dailies with high-speed newswire articles and digital photography from every corner of the globe.

The name of John Stroman is consistently misspelled, which is ironic considering that Stroman's role had been under-played in some accounts of the Civil Rights Movement in Orangeburg.

Southern Methodist College in Orangeburg is singled out as a "segregationist" institution at a time when such attitudes prevailed throughout the city. Did the Methodist Church-affiliated Claflin College in Orangeburg have any more whites than SMC had blacks at that time? (By the way, both of those colleges are now integrated.)

Orangeburg is not, "about halfway" between Columbia and Charleston, neither geographically nor even socially.

It also must be noted that various other accounts of various events in Orangeburg in early 1968 — All Star Bowling Lanes owner Harry Floyd's actions, in particular -- differ substantially from the book's account.

Davis takes the title of "Weary Feet, Rested Souls" from a comment made by a black woman during the boycott of the Montgomery, Ala., bus system - walking instead of riding made her physically tired but the knowledge that she was fighting injustice soothed her spirit.

The book is full of examples of "weary feet" - the very literal foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement who endured countless indignities while standing firm for what they believed in.

"Rested souls" is another matter. As Davis relates what daily life was like for Southern blacks three and four decades ago, the reader gains an appreciation for how much has changed.

But even a casual reader of the newspaper will have noticed how many of the changes, for which so many fought so hard and sacrificed so much are being rolled back.

In May 1954, "Brown v. Board of Education" banished "separate but equal" schools. In September 1997, a poll by Garin Hart Yang Research shows that a rapidly growing percentage — now a majority — of American young people find the concept of "separate but equal" acceptable.

Blacks, who decades ago fought racial discrimination, now applaud speakers who advocate it, like "Black Enterprise magazine" executive Earl Graves: he used an official appearance at South Carolina State University on Dec. 3 to urge students to base their purchasing decisions primarily, if not solely, on the skin color of the owner of the business.

Affirmative action, one the hallmark achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, is under attack across the nation. Supporters of affirmative action were forced to pull back from one New Jersey case that reached the U. S. Supreme Court in order not to risk having the entire concept ruled unconstitutional.

Redistricting created districts that gave blacks in South Carolina and other states a better chance to win election to the General Assembly or Congress, but conservative courts with increasing frequency have ordered further remaps that do not consider race and that consistently reduce the number of black elected officials.

Laws forbidding blacks and whites from playing checkers together, eating on the same sides of the restaurant or sitting in the same half of a bus have vanished - but in 1997 in South Carolina, it's still illegal to marry someone of a different race.

On a state with a significant minority population, South Carolina under Gov., David Beasley's administration has only one black in a high-ranking state government position.

Even a Republican governor who campaigned on the platform of letting it fly over the Statehouse can’t persuade the South Carolina General Assembly to retire the Confederate battle flag - which Davis explains in his book "was not the flag of the Confederacy itself, which had three thick horizontal stripes and circle of stars (the Stars and Bars), but rather the diagonally striped battle flag favored by the Ku Klux Klan."

Perhaps all of this serves as a warning that civil rights advocates should not get complacent, but brace for even more "weary feet" before they can enjoy the luxury of "rested souls."


Originally Published: January 2, 1998
Orangeburg Times and Democrat


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