Photographer Cecil Williams’ vision gives South Carolina its only civil rights museum

by Madison Thomas
0 comment
Civil Rights Museum

Photographer Cecil Williams has played a pivotal role in capturing South Carolina’s civil rights history through his lens. His extensive collection of photographs, numbering in the millions, is currently undergoing the process of digitization and categorization. Williams has long harbored the dream of establishing a civil rights museum that commemorates the struggles of Black Americans against segregation and discrimination within the state.

Williams, who recently celebrated his 85th birthday, believes in the profound storytelling power of images. He emphasizes that the fight for the rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution is a compelling narrative that deserves to be preserved.

While Williams’ photographs and personal journey will be remembered, there is a growing concern among preservationists and historians. As individuals who lived through the civil rights era pass away, valuable artifacts such as letters, photographs, and mementos of the struggle are at risk of being discarded, potentially resulting in the loss of significant African American history.

Williams encourages young people to recognize the everyday superheroes in their communities who fought against injustice. His own journey as a photographer began at the age of nine when he received his first camera. His early work captured a historic moment when he photographed civil rights attorney and later Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall arriving to work on a segregation case.

Williams’ portfolio expanded over the years to encompass pivotal events such as the Charleston hospital workers strike, U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond’s final campaign, and the removal of the Confederate flag from the Statehouse dome.

In 2019, recognizing the absence of a civil rights museum in South Carolina, Williams transformed his old residence in Orangeburg into the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum. He personally curated exhibitions and divided the rooms to showcase the struggle for civil rights. Despite minimal marketing efforts, the museum has welcomed 25,000 visitors.

The museum features not only Williams’ photographs but also significant artifacts, including a bowling pin and shotgun shells from the All-Star Bowling Lanes, where 1968 desegregation protests turned tragic in the Orangeburg Massacre. Of particular importance is the section dedicated to Briggs v. Elliott, the South Carolina case that laid the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ended legal segregation.

Williams also displays Reverend Joseph DeLaine’s Bible, a key figure in the Briggs case, along with DeLaine’s firearm used for protection against racists who threatened his family.

Williams is currently engaged in a campaign to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to officially rename the Brown case as the Briggs case in its records. He believes that this change would recognize South Carolina’s role in ending segregation.

While Claflin University is working to scan and catalog Williams’ negatives, historians worry that valuable historical materials are at risk of being lost as the generation that fought for civil rights passes away. Historians like Brent Leggs emphasize the importance of preserving letters, posters, recordings, and other artifacts that provide insight into the civil rights movement.

In the near future, Williams hopes to relocate his museum to a larger building in downtown Orangeburg, thanks to a $23 million federal grant. This move is part of a broader initiative to revitalize Railroad Corner and honor the rich African American heritage of the city.

Williams acknowledges that most of the funding for these efforts comes from federal and local sources and reflects on South Carolina’s historical reluctance to acknowledge its racial history. Nevertheless, through his museum and his photography, Williams has ensured that this hidden history is brought to light and remembered for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Civil Rights Museum

Question: Who is Cecil Williams, and what role did he play in South Carolina’s civil rights history?

Answer: Cecil Williams is a renowned photographer who extensively documented South Carolina’s civil rights history through his photographs. His work captures pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights, including sit-ins, protests, and the integration of universities.

Question: What is the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum?

Answer: The Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum is a museum established by Cecil Williams in Orangeburg, South Carolina. It showcases his vast collection of photographs and artifacts related to the civil rights movement in the state.

Question: What artifacts and exhibits can visitors expect to find at the museum?

Answer: The museum features Cecil Williams’ photographs, along with significant artifacts such as items from the Orangeburg Massacre, Reverend Joseph DeLaine’s Bible, and his firearm used for protection. There is also a section dedicated to the Briggs v. Elliott case, which played a crucial role in ending legal segregation.

Question: Why is there an effort to rename the Brown case to the Briggs case in official records?

Answer: Cecil Williams is leading an effort to rename the Brown v. Board of Education case to the Briggs case in official records. He believes this change will recognize South Carolina’s significant role in ending segregation and prevent its historical contribution from being obscured.

Question: How is the preservation of civil rights history being addressed as the generation that lived through the era passes away?

Answer: Preservationists and historians are concerned about the loss of civil rights history as those who lived through that era pass away. Efforts are underway to scan and catalog historical materials, but there’s a call to save letters, posters, recordings, and other artifacts to ensure the preservation of this vital history.

Question: What are the future plans for the Cecil Williams South Carolina Civil Rights Museum?

Answer: Cecil Williams hopes to relocate the museum to a larger building in downtown Orangeburg, thanks to a federal grant. This move is part of a broader initiative to revitalize Railroad Corner and celebrate Orangeburg’s African American heritage.

More about Civil Rights Museum

You may also like

Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News