Nobody had to tell Dr. Horace Goggins – a legendary civil rights figure and the first black candidate for the Rock Hill school board – that a white politician in South Carolina said something stupid about black people.
This time it was Richard Eckstrom, the state’s comptroller general. Apparently because he is so busy counting money, he has missed decades of achievement by black people.
Eckstrom said this week that students go to S.C. State University in Orangeburg because they can’t get in anywhere else.
That means the predominantly white schools. The schools that, until 50 years ago, by law and custom did not allow blacks.
“South Carolina State was all we had,” said Goggins, who graduated from there in 1950. “We had students as smart then – and now – as any white student. But the whites didn’t want us at their schools.”
Goggins has been hearing white people talking about why there should or should not be a black college all his adult life. Before the federal courts threatened South Carolina’s lily-white colleges, there was a black college because white schools did not allow blacks to attend.
“We, as a state, should want all children to succeed,” Goggins said. “South Carolina State is about opportunity. Opportunity for black students that they may not have other places.”
Goggins’ late wife, Juanita Goggins, in 1974 was the first black woman elected to the Legislature. She, too, was a graduate of S.C. State.
“Class of 1957,” Goggins said. “I would hope people would remember she went there. I would hope they would remember what she did for her state afterward, and what other State graduates have done for our state.
“We have turned out quite a few people who have made this state better.”
The state’s only black congressman, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, went to S.C. State. The late Bessie Moody-Lawrence, who was elected to the same York County seat that Juanita Goggins held in the S.C. House, who taught a generation of teachers of all colors at Winthrop University, was an alumna of S.C. State.
South Carolina’s first black chief justice, Ernest Finney, is an alumnus of S.C. State. The late Matthew Perry, a federal judge whose stature was and is so huge that the federal courthouse is named for him, was a State alum.
Those men even attended a law school there that was open for a few years after World War II, when the University of South Carolina refused to allow black college graduates to attend its law school.
That is how black lawyers started in this state – S.C. State had to teach them, because USC refused.
All those people changed this state and country and nation. All made it better. S.C. State graduates are doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, preachers, business leaders, entrepreneurs – in York County and in every county of South Carolina.
Many black college students, then and now, come from families without a history of attending college. S.C. State is a chance for all to go to college. S.C. State is a chance for equality to finally come true.
At Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill – one of the top high schools in the state by any measure – guidance counselor Charles Drakeford helps kids of all colors prepare for college. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at S.C. State.
Diana Smith is an assistant principal at Nation Ford. People call her Dr. Smith, because she holds a doctor of education degree and someday soon will be a top principal. Her career of helping all children regardless of race started at S.C. State.
At schools all over York County, black teachers and administrators who attended S.C. State change the lives of all kids, every day by opening eyes and minds and dreams.
A few weeks ago, Goggins, a retired dentist, attended an S.C. State alumni meeting, during which the school’s current financial trouble and enrollment concerns were discussed. The college has had problems, he said, but the importance of S.C. State to the students of this state are worth the effort to save it.
Applications for admission are up, he said, and the college will flourish with the right support.
“We live in a state that is 30 percent black, but we have only one historically black public university,” Goggins said. “North Carolina, twice our size, has five public black colleges, but we have just one – and we can’t figure out how to support it?
“We must support it.”
The comptroller general, partly in charge of who gets the money in South Carolina, doesn’t want the black college to get it.
When late Sen. Strom Thurmond was trying to maintain segregation after World War II, the black daughter he never acknowledged attended S.C. State.
Thurmond would show up at the school, secretly drop off a few dollars, then try to curry favor as a white politician whose generosity of funding S.C. State was supposed to make blacks thankful for opportunities at their one public college, while whites had dozens of public universities and colleges.
Eckstrom this week joined some rare company of stupidity and duplicity by white politicians when it comes to their attitudes about S.C. State.
Goggins talked about the days of segregation, when black people only had S.C. State. The investment in that school, by people of all colors in South Carolina, has paid off and still pays off, he said.
“South Carolina State University has helped make South Carolina,” Goggins said. “Maybe the man who said the students can’t get in anywhere else ought to remember that.”