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Civil rights era more than a movie to them

So Virginia Pope is on her porch on Walnut Street, and she reads in The Herald about this movie about the civil rights era to be filmed here in Rock Hill.

She's hundreds of miles from the landmark Apollo Theater in Harlem, where she sang gospel music seven times and the thousands of other places she's sang forever in the only job she ever had.

In her mind, she is thinking about knowing Adam Clayton Powell and Thurgood Marshall and the Rev. Al Sharpton and more. She remembered the first time in the South when she stepped toward the ladies room and saw the sign that said "colored." She remembered she had to walk to a separate counter to get what she was told was a ham sandwich but said "I know bologna when I see it and eat it."

Pope picked up her cell phone and called the Rev. Viola Blackburn. Pope came to Rock Hill about three years ago to help Blackburn, whom she met in New York long ago, with Blackburn's ministry. And to sing, of course, Pope sings, has sung, will sing, until she cannot.

"There's a movie, and I want to be in it," Pope told Blackburn.

Pope remembered that she met Danny Glover one time, the same Glover who will star in the movie that starts shooting Monday less than a mile from where she sat on that porch.

Somebody picked her up Wednesday, and a few minutes later, Pope used her crutches to walk inside the casting call for "Gospel Hill." Pope lost her right leg at age 8 when she was hit by a car, but a leg is not her voice that she still has.

Her picture was taken, and she filled out a form. She might get cast in the choir scene, she was told. She would possibly be an extra in the movie, her first role on the screen.

She has performed countless times in churches small and cavernous. I ask Wednesday's stupidest question: "Were you nervous?"

"What's that?" Pope demanded in a regal tone. "I was not nervous at all."

Virginia Pope with the one leg and the divine bearing is 85 years old. She hasn't been nervous since Truman was president and she was told by a Southern sign she was colored.

The movie is about sins of the civil rights movement in a Southern town. I leave Pope on that porch and arrive at the casting center at Freedom Center. In the lobby is a man wearing white leather shoes that shine like mirrors, white pants, hat and a smile. At 78, he carries himself like a duke. He had just stepped lively from a black, finned, 1964 Mercury Comet that he bought new 43 years ago for $2,495.

He, too, read in The Herald about the movie.

Of course, it is Dr. Horace Goggins, dentist in Rock Hill for 42 years until he retired in 1999. The same Goggins who was secretary of the city's chapter of the NAACP during the 1950s and 1960s -- days of the black boycott of the all-white bus system in his city. The days of the lunch counter sit-ins in his city. The days when white cops arrested black students who would later be called the Friendship Nine, and the cops put them in jail for 30 days for daring to eat a hamburger done rare with pickles and onions next to the whites.

Aside from many of the students with the guts to protest and a few others, many of the people in the middle of getting spit on and threatened in the late 1950s and early 1960s are dead, Goggins said.

But Goggins is very much alive, and he doesn't have to watch movies about civil rights because he lived it and remembers it all. He arrived to tell the movie people, "If there is any information I can give anyone to help you make your movie, that would be fine." He also offered that 1964 Comet, because the movie needs vintage cars.

The casting sheet said it especially needed extras ages 18 to 60.

"I surpassed 60 long ago," Goggins told me.

None of my business, but I urged Goggins to put in a sheet to be an extra. The casting lady agreed.

Goggins had his picture taken. He might get called to be an extra, like Virginia Pope.

I'm rooting for them both.

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