This year, America has turned its gaze to South Carolina. What it has seen was colors: white and black, some orange and purple – and blood red.
▪ In January, the country saw a York County judge, acting at the behest of state prosecutors, vacate the 1961 convictions of the Friendship Nine civil rights protesters, black college students who sat down at a whites-only Rock Hill lunch counter.
▪ Three months later, America gasped as it watched video of a police officer in North Charleston shooting a fleeing, unarmed black man in the back.
▪ In June, the nation was knocked to its knees as a teen who wanted to start a race war walked into a Charleston church, prayed with its black members, then murdered nine of them – people who had just told him how much they loved him.
The grace of the families of those church victims spurred state leaders to finally remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds.
▪ Right now, the undefeated Clemson Tigers sit atop the national college football rankings. Clemson – with its recent history of being oh-so-close, only to lose at least one critical game a season – is carrying all of us with a chance for America to see this state in a redemptive light.
Yet there is one other person who is even greater. He soars over racists and Confederate flags and even the Clemson football team:
La’Darious Wylie, the 11-year-old Chester boy who lost his own life while saving his 7-year-old sister’s.
On Oct. 27, La’Darious was at a school bus stop on Ashford Street in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Chester when he spotted a car heading toward his sister. La’Darious lunged and pushed Sha’Vonta McCrorey out of the way, saving her.
But the car crushed him. Police say it was a hit and run.
The Herald’s reporting of La’Darious’ courage has brought national attention to the boy and his family, but he deserves more.
He deserves South Carolina’s highest civilian honor, The Order of the Palmetto.
He deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a U.S. civilian can receive.
Our state and nation – hammered by race in 2015 – should pause for a minute and regard the best among us, an 11-year-old black kid who gave his own life to save his sister.
Chester County Sheriff Alex Underwood grew up right down the street from where La’Darious was killed. His father still lives in the neighborhood. He, too, was a little black kid taught to be courageous. He was La’Darious Wylie.
“I grew up right there,” Underwood said. “That’s me.”
Underwood, a former State Law Enforcement Division agent, was once on the state SWAT Team. That elite unit turned to the Book of Isaiah for its motto – “Here I am – send me” – and its inspiration to rush toward harm to save others.
The sheriff hopes Chester and South Carolina and America understand what a hero La’Darious Wylie is.
“He gave his life for another person,” Underwood said. “Is there anything that is greater? No.”
Underwood is pursuing an award for La’Darious from the S.C. Sheriffs’ Association. State Sen. Creighton Coleman, who represents Chester County in the General Assembly, said he will introduce a resolution honoring La’Darious when the Legislature convenes in January – and “it will pass.”
But as early as Monday, the Chester City Council will consider renaming the neighborhood park where La’Darious played in his honor.
These leaders are not waiting.
“This young man, La’Darious, he’s the real hero,” said David Williamson Jr., one of the Friendship Nine who patiently waited more than five decades for justice. “He saved his sister. He gave his life for another human being.
“Is there a greater act in the world than that? No, there is not.”
It shouldn’t take another 54 years – or another horrible tragedy or terrible news about race relations to stun the world – for South Carolina and America to recognize that La’Darious Wylie showed all of us what it means to be a hero.