The keynote speaker at next week's Emancipation Proclamation banquet represents a break from the norm for the local NAACP chapter. Then again, Curwood Chappell has never been the predictable sort.
The outspoken York County Council member will headline Tuesday's annual program, expected to draw 200 people to the Freedom Center in downtown Rock Hill.
Given Chappell's penchant for long-winded speechifying, the event might last awhile. It will almost certainly deliver a few surprises.
During his eight terms in office, Chappell's orations have become part of local folklore with their old-fashioned sayings and occasional use of profanity.
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Admirers say Chappell, 78, stands up for people whose views are too often overlooked, including those in his rural district south of Rock Hill. He fought against a construction and debris landfill proposed near South Pointe High School and advocated for sidewalks to help children walk safely to school.
Critics counter that his shoot-from-the-hip style creates a sense of dysfunction and hostility. They also say some of his comments over the years have been insensitive, if not offensive.
Whatever the case, Chappell's constituents have re-elected him eight times.
Skeptic of juvenile drug court
Last year, Chappell questioned the need to spend taxpayer money on York County's juvenile drug court, saying it wouldn't be necessary if parents would do their jobs right.
"I don't understand how we can teach a dog or a monkey to do 10 things right, but we can't teach our children how to do 10 things right," Chappell said. "I simply can't get in my mind why we have to contend with these drugs. I gave you four (children) that don't do it. I expect you to give me the same thing."
In 1998, Chappell accused two black Rock Hill City Council members, Winston Searles and Osbey Roddey, of bowing to pressure from the white majority in a debate over plans to redevelop Cherry Road.
"I would like you not to use racism to get your point across when it's convenient for you," Roddey responded at the time.
Nine years later, the choice of speaker raises questions about what message the NAACP is sending, said Dub Massey, a minister and life member of the civil rights organization.
"I know they had belly dancers last year," Massey said, referring to a recent NAACP function. "And now Curwood. What next?"
Chappell did not return phone calls seeking comment on Wednesday.
Getting outside comfort zones
Rock Hill NAACP President Herb Crump said Chappell was his first and only choice to headline the program, which commemorates President Lincoln's Civil War order freeing slaves in the rebelling states.
"If you ask anyone about Curwood Chappell's position on the council, they'll tell you he will go to war to stand up and support his constituents," said Crump, pastor of Freedom Temple Ministries. "He's also bold enough to speak truth to the powers that be. I would like to say there's a little bit of Curwood Chappell in me ... just a little bit."
The choice, Crump said, is in keeping with the NAACP's theme this year, "Celebrating Diversity." It's also part of a larger effort to prod members out of their comfort zones and prevent a sense of predictability from settling in.
"You can't always bring people in to speak to you that will make you feel comfortable," Crump said. "We need to be challenged and pushed. It's only when you become uncomfortable that you become bold enough to make progress."