Post celebrates African American history
The staff at Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center sponsored the command program, which was held Feb. 26 in Alexander Hall.
The 2013 national theme, “At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality,” focused on the 100 years from 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln freed slaves in all Confederate states and made them eligible for paid military service in the Union Army, through the 1963 March on Washington for jobs and freedom.
The guest speaker, Dr. George C. Bradley, the 14th president of Paine College, spoke about the civil rights movement in Augusta. Paine College is a historically private black [African American] college established in 1882 in Augusta. It is the only school in the nation started by black and white Southerners as an interracial enterprise.
According to Bradley, the civil rights movement in this area was lead by a small, feisty group of students known as “The Steering Committee.”
“The marches and demonstrations were carried out almost exclusively by Paine College students,” said Bradley, also the co-founder of the South Carolina Institute for Research in Education. “Virtually every Paine student participated.”
The committee targeted first the privately owned city bus company. “On May 2, 1960, at four o’clock in the afternoon, Paine students boarded buses on several routes that took them all across the city,” Bradley said. ”The student leaders contacted the media prior to the move, giving details of their plans, and even citing specific buses slated for integration attempts.”
According to Bradley, 11 students riding the buses the first day were arrested for disorderly conduct when they refused to move to the back of the bus in order for white passengers to sit down.
On Aug. 9, 1960, five other students filed a law suit, Taylor versus the City of Augusta. The case was tried before a three-judge federal court Jan. 22, 1962. By a two-to-one margin, the court sided with the Paine students, according to Bradley. That small group of students succeeded in desegregating the buses in Augusta.
The students didn’t stop there. They organized sitins to integrate lunch counters in downtown Augusta, demonstrated outside Augusta National Golf Club on Human Rights Day (when President Dwight D. Eisenhower happened to be playing there)¸ and worked for the integration of several downtown Augusta department stores.
“At least one downtown store shut down its lunch counter rather than integrate,” Bradley said. “Between 1960 and 1962, Paine students almost single- handedly dismantled segregation in Augusta. The public library, the movie theaters, and the Augusta baseball team integrated voluntarily.”
Following Bradley’s account of Augusta’s civil rights movement, the AJADACO African Dance Company gave an uplifting performance.
After the performance attendees were invited to the lobby for refreshments and an opportunity to view the many displays which depicted the stories of the African American struggle for freedom and the numerous accomplishments of these American citizens. One of the displays, “The Underground Rail,” featured the song, “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” which was supposedly used by an Underground Railroad operative to encode escape instructions and a map.
These directions enable fleeing slaves to make their way north from Mobile, Ala. to the Ohio River and freedom.
“They moved mainly at night,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Warrior Transition Battalion and creator of the display. “It’s sad they had to move around so secretly. They should have been able to travel more openly and free.”