FACES OF FEBRUARY

A glimpse of some African-American voices and faces found in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, published during Black History Month, 2015.

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CJ MILLER

theatre director, dramatist, stand-up comedian



Miller grew up in a military family and is an Air Force veteran himself. As a kid, he would write stories for his toys to act out. When he went back to school at Francis Marion University, he dove into theatre courses.



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"At that point I had something to say … and it was 'I do not like the way the world is. Period.’ With any aspect of it. The way we treat each other in terms of race, age, gender, religion, sexuality, financial status, every aspect that you can think of, I was unhappy with the way the world is. Anything that was good, needed to be made perfect. Anything that was bad, needed to be made good … If I’m not happy with the way the world is, I have to do something about it. I’m not going to be somebody that’s just gonna complain and hope somebody takes my complaints and runs with them … I would hope one day we completely do away with Black History Month. I think February as Black History Month is an anchor for us. I think it’s holding us back. I think Randall Robinson, civil rights activist, once said, ‘The story of America is the story of America. Period.’ You can’t tell the story of America without telling the story of African-Americans. If we need to have Black History Month because if we don’t have a Black History Month, then we would never discuss black history, then that says something about us."

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QUEEN QUET

head of state for the Gullah/Geechee nation



Queen Quet, aka Marquetta Goodwine, is the leader of the Gullah/Geechee nation, a culturally distinct group of descendents of enslaved Africans. The Gullah/Geechee region includes the lowcountry, coast and islands of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida, but the diaspora is international. Part of Queen Quet’s responsibility is to preserve her people’s history and region and to be a steward for their culture.



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“For me, it’s really personal because my family has always engaged in celebrating who we are all the time. So it just made it a unique time of year, that maybe we just had some company in celebrating who we are … All year long, someone could say you celebrate white history because everything you’re taught has to do with European history. You’re taught about Greeks in school, you’re taught about Shakespeare in school. It’s all Eurocentric … If we took a 300-page U.S. history book, you wouldn’t even find 5% of that book focused on black history. Hence the need for Black History Month … If you don’t even want to address knowing that I have a story, how can we have a dialogue? Because I don’t matter to you.”

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LEROY “PETE” PETERSON JR.

chemistry professor; campus organizer; community volunteer



Peterson was born in Mars Bluff and moved to north Florence when he was 6. He graduated from Wilson High School, served in the armed forces, and returned to Florence to attend FMU; now, he teaches there.



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“We need to be more of like a family and like a team … That’s the next step for this community – to be more like a village. Let’s get together and involve everybody … Even the poorest person. We got to be a village. That’s the next best thing we need to do … Even a person you don’t think has an opinion, ask them. The best possible city is one where everyone is involved.”

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DOROTHY HINES

community leader, Williams Heights neighborhood



Holding her Wilson High School yearbook, Hines recalled coming of age in an era of optimism and activism in society and politics. Florence has made progress, she said, but there’s still work to do. “I did not know the different abandoned homes and how some of the neighborhoods really looked until we got on the bus and did several tours of Florence,” she said. “When you look on the surface, you wouldn’t believe that that exists here in Florence.”



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“The movement, for me, it gave me a sense that there was a strong possibility that I would be able to go to college, be able to make a living, be able to get a good job. There was more for you besides being a domestic or working on a farm. As a result of the Civil Rights Movement, you just had a pride about it: ‘I’m gonna be something, I’m gonna make something out of myself. And I’m gonna vote’ … I enjoyed everything I did or I am doing. I’ve enjoyed it. Meet it head on. Wake up saying ‘This is going to be a good day. Let’s see what we can make happen today.’ ”

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JAMES LESLIE

Red Cross volunteer, honor guard operational officer



As a boy growing up in New York City, it was easy to get in trouble, so Leslie’s mother sent him down South for a while to live in the country with his grandparents. In 1963, he joined the New York National Guard, becoming the only African-American member of his 900-man battalion. Later, as a special agent with the Virginia Department of Corrections, he helped crack a murder case wide open. Leslie is holding a portrait of his 23-year-old self in uniform.



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“When I first started coming down here I was probably around 8 or 9 years old. We got on a train in New York, Penn Station. We got to Richmond, and all the blacks had to go to the front of the train or all the whites went to the front. They had to separate the train. I remember my mother saying ‘we have to go up front.’ And I said ‘why? I like my seat here.’ ‘Come on, boy, lets go’ … The riots started around the country -- Newark, New Jersey; Detroit; California -- so New York decided to step up our meetings. We were going to National Guard meetings once a week, every Tuesday night. They did it Tuesday night and Thursday night because they were anticipating civil unrest. And everybody was getting hyped up about going out, and so I overheard somebody say one day, and I think I never reported who did it: ‘Hey, we’re going to go out there and kill us some niggers.’ And I told my commander ‘I heard that word spoken. If we get called up to go out, keep me here at the base. I'm not going to go out.’ ”

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JOHN GAINES

civil rights activist, attorney



In late January 1961, Gaines sat down at a segregated lunch counter in Rock Hill. He was 19. He was part of a group which later became known as the “Friendship Nine;” they were utilizing a new tactic in the Civil Rights Movement: “jail, no bail,” opting to spend time in a cell rather than paying a fine. Last month – 54 years after their non-violent protest -- a judge threw out the Friendship Nine’s convictions. Gaines is pictured with his manuscript, an autobiography and history of the Friendship Nine, which he hopes to publish soon.



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“We learned that blacks all across the South, all the other colleges that had been demonstrating, they decided to go to jail and stay too. So we reunited the Civil Rights Movement and got everybody to participate. Before, the Civil Rights Movement seemed to be kind of winding down. They said we were a fad like the hula hoop – that we would fade away … Understand these mothers are concerned about the safety of their kids, going anywhere and being stopped by police, beaten or killed, when they don’t have any weapons on them. That’s what they’re concerned about … We’ve got to get more dialogue between blacks and whites with respect to policing and courts. There’s a real disconnect.”

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JOYCE DURANT

dean, FMU James A. Rogers Library



Durant is a 1973 graduate of Francis Marion College. After she graduated, she took a low-paying job as a clerk typist in the library. Now she’s head of the library and an endowed chair in African-American Studies bears her name. The library maintains a collection dedicated to the African-American experience, ranging from books and periodicals to microfilm and electronic resources.



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“We’ve got almost 3,000 volumes in the African-American collection. We are constantly searching the literature and finding new resources to purchase. It started out being about South Carolina. Well that was not broad enough. We had to expand it to national history, because all of us are interrelated – South, North, all of us … If you look at this institution, this was a plantation before it became an institution. So there was a strong African-American presence of people who worked the farm here. It’s in part dedication to that. And if you look at this institution and you look at the ratio of African-American to Caucasian -- it’s a high ratio. Because it’s this region, this community, you had a lot of African-Americans who worked in this area. It’s to focus and to introduce them more to their heritage.”

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SHELLEY FORTIN

Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Services, Florence-Darlington Technical College



As a first-generation college student at a small residential college in Massachusetts, Dr. Fortin was one of two black freshmen. She sees education as a way to broaden individuals’ world views, and an “equalizer” for people who might otherwise be marginalized in life.



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“We’re a Western culture, and a lot of what we see and what we learn in school is based on Western philosophy and Greek myths. It’s just very Eurocentric. And that’s the norm … African-American History Month, Black History Month, gives us an opportunity to look purposely at something that’s outside of our culture that has made many contributions to the world … A lot of times the news is negative and African-Americans have had such a strong history in building this country. This country wouldn’t be what it is without the contributions of African-Americans … Unfortunately, we tend to gravitate toward those who are like us, and we’re missing this whole breadth of the world that is so interesting and adds more to our lives. But we stay in our own comfort zone, and we’re missing a lot by doing that.”

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ORLANDO HUDSON

Major League Baseball veteran, founder of the C.A.T.C.H. foundation



Hudson, a Darlington native who spent 11 years in the Major Leagues, spoke about the lack of African-American representation in baseball, and how he believed that racism is taught and reinforced by older generations.



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“We just need to keep working with what we have in our community and pushing forth, especially for African-American males. The prison population is so high. It’s like we lost our identity, our culture, our race, our ethnic background. We can’t depend on schools. School is not gonna teach black history the way black history should be taught. That starts at home and parents taking their kids to the library so they can actually know how strong black people are … We are a powerful nation as a black community, but you can’t see it when you watch the news and there’s a lot of drug dealing and a lot of killing and gang violence and everything else.”

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PEARL FRYAR

topiary artist



Fryar's expansive back yard in Bishopville, South Carolina is filled with his living creations: trees and bushes meticulously trimmed and shaped over years. Now well-known locally and internationally, his philanthropy comes in the form of scholarships for students who haven’t excelled academically. Creative talent and potential, Fryar said, doesn’t always show itself in the classroom. "But I only cut up bushes, so who's gonna listen to me?"



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"My education came out of New York. In New York, it was the first time I had an opportunity to live in a multicultural society. The moment you get to the point in life that you appreciate different cultures, you're gonna grow. I look at what I’m doing as part of my culture. I grew up using what I had. I’m used to using recycled … We're losing too many students from the bottom for the lack of financial resources. We educate from the top down. We're losing a lot of talent from the bottom. At some point, if we're serious about poverty and crime, we will educate from the bottom up."