Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Loftis, Byrnes, Tillman, Thurmond... Flair?

In some respects, Lake City has come a long way.

In 1898, Lake City's African-American postmaster and his infant daughter were murdered after a terrible lynching incident. Thankfully, we don't have incidents of this sort anymore.

Rather, Lake City is known today as the birthplace of astronaut Ron McNair and university benefactor Darla Moore, as well as a trio of professional athletes, Derrick Burgess, D.T. Cromer and Tripp Cromer.

McNair is memorialized with a statue at the Lake City Public Library; in my opinion, his monument ought to stand on the State House grounds, as his character and service exemplify what is best about South Carolina's people. Similarly, Moore is known for her generosity to the University of South Carolina, on whose board of trustees she served until Governor Nikki Haley was elected and found the service of a campaign contributor more to her liking.

This is not to say that Lake City has overcome all of its challenges.

Census data reflected at Wikipedia suggests that Lake City is still a poor community:

As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 6,478 people, 2,409 households, and 1,705 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,365.0 people per square mile (526.6/km²). There were 2,704 housing units at an average density of 569.8 per square mile (219.8/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 71.43% African American, 27.18% White, 0.08% Native American, 0.34% Asian, 0.28% from other races, and 0.69% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.10% of the population.

The median income for a household in the city was $22,534, and the median income for a family was $32,111. Males had a median income of $26,316 versus $19,679 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,452. About 26.9% of families and 31.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 45.0% of those under age 18 and 25.3% of those age 65 or over.

Per capita income of $14,452 is terribly low. A median income of $26,316 for Lake City's men is low, and for Lake City's women, the median income of $19,679 is low. I imagine that most of Lake City's population takes care to spend its money wisely.

That is probably the advice given last week by State Treasurer Curtis Loftis to the seventh-graders from Lake City's Carolina Academy.

Students from The Carolina Academy got the opportunity to see government up close recently during an excursion to Columbia.

The seventh grade students from John Wall’s history class toured the monuments on the grounds of the State House and were tasked with documenting why the monuments were placed there and their importance to South Carolina’s history.

The students assembled in the balcony of the General Assembly and were introduced individually to the members of the State House of Representatives by Representative James H. Lucan, House Speaker Pro Tem. They were also greeted by our district representative Rep. Lester P. Branham, Jr (District 61).

In addition, the students had the opportunity to meet and talk with Curtis M. Loftis, Jr., South Carolina State Treasurer.

“It was a pleasure to meet with seventh graders from Carolina Academy in Lake City today. I tackled questions like ‘how much money does the office handle’ to ‘how much does the state spend’ to the always tough question from one boy: ‘Have you heard of Ric Flair’,” said Loftis.

For the record, yes, Loftis had heard of Ric Flair, a world heavyweight champion professional wrestler who is also known as “The Nature Boy”.

Mm. Ric Flair.

I remember my first visit to Columbia. Candidly, as a studious sort, I did a lot of reading about the place ahead of time, so I would know about the monuments there before I got to see them. I read about Governor Jimmy Byrnes and his service to Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman, even his service on the U.S. Supreme Court, and how he pushed the legislature to approve huge investments in building schools to demonstrate that separate-but-equal could be a valid policy.

I read about Governor "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, the murderous racist who was successful at organizing farmers to overthrow the Bourbon Restoration, and who took advantage of opportunities to build Clemson and Winthrop to further break the Charleston aristocracy's hold on the state.

Then there was the Confederate War memorial. I wonder how many people know that a bolt of lightning destroyed the original monument less than three years after it was erected in its State House location? And that the original head -- knocked by the lightning across the State House grounds -- now resides in a museum in Richmond, Virginia?

That visit had a powerful impact. A walk through our State House grounds is a walk through some awful history.

But I digress.

As I understand it, Carolina Academy is a Lake City success story, an oasis of comfort in a desert of poverty. Opened in 1967, during South Carolina's segregation academy boom, it appears to have thrived for these past 45 years. Indeed, tuition to Carolina Academy is $4,400 per child in grades 1-12, $2,900 per kindergartner, with a 12.5 percent reduction for a second or third child from the same family. Tuition is eliminated for fourth and subsequent children from the same family, a legacy policy that must strongly promote stability in its student community.

Carolina Academy is to be commended for giving its students an opportunity to visit the State House and meet with its state officials.

If I could wave a wand, I'd make certain that all of the 700,000 students enrolled in South Carolina's public schools could have the same tour of their State House grounds, and meet with their state officials.

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