On November 14, 2016, important civil rights leaders were recognized at The Palmetto Room in Rock Hill, S.C. The event started with a dedication of the Freedom Walkway and continued with a screening of “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise." The event culminated with a panel discussion that included Friendship 9 member David Williamson, Jr., Winthrop University Professors, Dr. Adolphus Belk and Dr. Scott Huffmon and moderator, Dr. Jennifer Disney.
Stephen Turner, Director of Economic and Urban Development for The City of Rock Hill, discussed the importance of Freedom Walkway, explaining that it is meant to “celebrate people who have played a significant role in striving for justice and equality,” but it shouldn’t stop there. He continues, “We don’t want this place to be a historical monument, we want it to be a place of inspiration. We want it to be a place where people in the future can be inspired to fight for justice and equality in their day and time.”
The exceptional turnout for the events on November 14 lends a hand to this mission. Those recognized by The Freedom Walkway included the members of The Friendship 9: John Gaines, Thomas Gaither, Clarence Henry Graham, W. T. “Dub” Massey, Robert McCullough, Mack Workman, James Wells, David Williamson, Jr., and Willie McCleod. Also recognized were four local heroes: Jim Williams, Dr. William W. Fennell, Bobby Plair, Sr., and Addelene Austin White.
Following the dedication, the screening of “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” took place. The series, as explained by the President and CEO of SCETV, Linda O’Bryon, “looks at the last five decades of African American history, since the major civil rights victories and through the eyes of Henry Louis Gates. He explores the tremendous gains, the persistent challenges of all those years.” She continues, “He raises urgent questions about the future of the African American community and our nation as a whole. Questions like: How far have we come toward racial equality since the civil rights era? What does it mean to be black today? And, following last week’s historic election, how will we move forward as a community and a nation to continue the journey of Martin Luther King Jr. and others who held civil rights so close to their hearts?”
In order to move forward as a nation, these are questions that must be answered. After the screening of “Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise” panelists answered additional questions concerning race relations in America.
As the discussion came to a close, panel members came to a consensus that while there has been progress, there is still a long way to go. Dr. Scott Huffmon discusses his daughter’s friendship with a black male, telling a story about how she squeezes his hand for strength before marching band competitions. He explains that “if there was a picture of them holding hands fifty years ago, “there would be a whole different reaction than ‘isn’t that adorable, two friends strengthening each other?’” He continues, “That’s why this world’s a better place now, and it’s because of heroes in this room, the heroes who have stood up, and we do have a long way to go, but if we could be just a third as brave as they were, maybe we could make it better.”