Andrew Dys

Rock Hill civil rights leader David Boone on his life: ‘I wish I could have done more’

After 66 years of fighting for blacks and the poor, Brother David Boone reflected Friday from his hospital bed at The Oratory in Rock Hill. He spoke with a smile and a gleam in his eye.

“I have no regrets, not one, except this: I wish I could have done more.”

That is Boone, at 84, who made it his life’s work to change racial hatred, to uplift the broke and broken. With so much accomplished that buildings are named for him, Boone wants people to know that there is still work to be done.

“My life has been very fulfilling, in the work that I have done,” Boone said in an exclusive interview Friday with The Herald.

Boone said he wanted to speak because people deserve to know his status. He has led a public life since coming to Rock Hill in 1958.

In recent weeks, Boone has not been at the soup kitchen he founded, or at other places where he chairs boards and helps the poor. Many people have asked about him, because his longtime cancer battle is no secret.

“I am only sorry it has almost ended,” Boone said of his work.

For several years, Boone has fought cancer in his lower body with chemotherapy and other treatment. But the treatments made him so sick that he decided to stop.

Boone used the word “happy” to describe his decision to stop the treatments.

“I am at peace with the decision, and my faith in God is stronger today than ever,” Boone said.

Boone wanted to share a message for all those he has encountered in his life, serving as a civil rights leader in South Carolina. At times, he knows, he was hated.

Boone still keeps a t-shirt near him with his picture on it that says: “Man with a mission”

The mission was equality. And it still is.

“You are all still in my heart,” Boone said. “I love every one of you. I pray for you, and I hope you pray for me. And together, we will rejoice and go to heaven, together, someday.”

The Oratory is the Catholic order that administers area Catholic churches.

It includes St. Mary on Crawford Road, in an almost all-black neighborhood that used to be segregated. The church was created in the 1950s to serve blacks. Boone was St. Mary parish administrator, until retiring for health reasons in 2011. He came to Rock Hill from a Catholic seminary in his home state of Kentucky as a teenager, and he never left.

“My commitment, my life’s work, was to try and help the people of Crawford Road get jobs, good jobs,” Boone said.

His life’s work was that, but it was so much more.

Boone first was part of a boycott of segregated taxis and buses in the late 1950s. Then he becane a leader in the 1960 and 1961 sit-ins against segregated buses and restaurants in downtown Rock Hill.

He shifted his focus to getting basics, such as running water and electric service, to black neighborhoods, and to integrating public schools. He also led the charge to integrate Rock Hill’s recreation leagues and ballfields.

For 30 years, Boone ran a credit union for blacks who were barred from banks because of segregation. He was co-creator and still helps run the Dorothy Day Soup Kitchen for the poor, which has served more than a million meals over almost 30 years.

Boone has been a board member and chairman of the Carolina Community Actions anti-poverty agency since 1978. The agency’s building is named for him.

Walter Kellogg, executive director of the agency, was with Boone Friday morning.

“Brother has always showed all of us the best of the human heart,” Kellogg said.

Boone has been chair of the city’s recreation commission for decades, after he fought to integrate it. He is still a board member of the NAACP.

“Brother David Boone is a champion of Rock Hill, and for every one of us,” said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols.

There are a dozen stools at Rock Hill’s Five & Dine restaurant on Main Street, the site of the former McCrory’s lunch counter, where sit-ins took place in the early 1960s.

The black Friendship Nine protesters against segregation, who went to jail for 30 days for their role in the sit-in, have stools in their honor. Black preachers who helped organize the protests have a stool.

And Boone, who stood for blacks in Rock Hill all his adult life, and who helped organize those protests, has a stool, too.

It is a seat at the counter of fighting injustice in South Carolina and America.

It is is Boone’s seat forever.

“Brother David believed in what was right. Period,” said David Williamson Jr., a Friendship Nine member who often visits Boone. “And he never stopped.”

Boone endured death threats and was ostracized from Rock Hill society until recent decades.

Boone said Friday it was worth it. Not for him, but for the black, the poor, for people of all races.

“I have drawn people closer to the Lord,” Boone said. “If people see a difference in the races, something is wrong with them. God is all colors. No one should have a problem relating to anyone of a different color.”

Rick Rollins, 63, who has known Boone since childhood at St. Mary Catholic Church, is one of Boone’s caretakers, after serving with Boone at the soup kitchen and in other roles.

Rollins, who is black, described Boone as “like a father to me, and every person he ever met. We are, all of us, the same color.”

The Oratory and Boone’s caregivers have restricted almost all visitors, but Boone said it is worth reiterating that all men are created equal still is his life’s work. And more, that heaven is a place for all colors of people, Boone said.

In his later years, Boone has been honored with the South Carolina Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor, and with other tributes.

But Boone said the tribute is not his. The tribute, he said, is the lives of the people he has helped. Their kids and grandkids. Their hopes and dreams and joys.

Their equality.

His hope is that the rest of Rock Hill, and the world, will continue the effort for people of all religions, races and creeds.

“I hope that hope for humanity doesn’t die with me,” Boone said.