Saturday, January 20, 2007


Think you’re doing all you can?

By Vasilisa Hamilton

South Carolina, like much of our nation and world, is experiencing some of the toughest economic times many of us have ever seen. I’m finding, though, that I can still find a way to help someone who is in need. I’m inspired by the stories of people who are rising to the occasion.

In the pages of The State, I read about some S.C. Department of Education employees who are volunteering at Harvest Hope Food Bank while furloughed due to state budget cuts. They are looking beyond themselves, realizing how blessed they are in spite of being furloughed, and still finding a way to contribute to the common good.

I learned of another example of this sort while talking the man who services the vending machines in the building where I live. When I ran into him last week and asked about his Christmas vacation, he told me about a homeless family he and his wife helped during the holidays just by sorting through some their unused wedding gifts. Realizing that they had at least two of every gift they received, they were able to provide a new microwave, blankets, and other items for a local family.

For the other items the family needed, he posted a flyer at his workplace. He said several of his coworkers at Shealy Sales & Vending donated other household items, and the company regularly donates old uniforms and surplus snack foods to homeless shelters and other Midlands charities.

As part of my 2008 Christmas celebrations, I collaborated with my coworkers at University Publications; fellow residents of the building I live in; the hometown churches I attended while growing up; and members of my local church to support a number of charities and community organizations—cookies for the prison ministry; books for young people who are in the custody of the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice; canned goods for Harvest Hope Food Bank; money to purchase gifts and clothing for needy students at an elementary school in Lexington County. After all of that, I felt certain that I’d donated every surplus item I had. What else could I possibly give?

Then a coworker appealed to us for donations of jeans and coats for underprivileged children at her son’s middle school. I somehow managed to find the overcoat I “had to have” when Stein Mart discounted it two or three Christmases ago. I only wore it once. If I don’t pass along these items to organizations like Sister Care, Goodwill, or His House , I should give them directly to a person I know who is in need.

Just when I think I’ve done all that I can do, I find out I can actually do just a little bit more;

May it ever be so for all of us.

This article originally appeared in Carolina Panorama.

For Seven S.C. State Alumni, Justice Was Delayed, But Not Denied

By Vasilisa Hamilton

Some of them hadn’t seen each other in 48 years, nearly five decades. Many of them have returned to their native South Carolina. The Queen of May, 1956, Jimmie Mae Payne Grayson, traveled from Hayneville, Ala. The journalist, Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr., now calls Fort Washington, Md., home.

They gathered at the State Museum on Feb. 7. At least one of them is on crutches. One of them now walks with a cane. Many are retired educators and members of the clergy. They came to celebrate Black History Month, to discuss and reflect on “Student involvement in the Civil Rights Movement,” and to lay the groundwork for what will eventually become a permanent exhibit at the State Museum.

The year was 1955. The seven students—Charles H. Brown, Nathaniel Irvin Sr., Joshua Johnson, Fred H. Moore, Jimmie Mae Payne Grayson, Alice A. Pyatt, and Rudolph A. Pyatt Jr.---returned to South Carolina State College (now University), just weeks after the brutal murder of Emmett Till, who was his parents’ only child.

All were expelled for participating in civil rights protests while students at S.C. State. A couple of them lost, or nearly lost, their four-year academic scholarships. A few of them were overcome with emotion as they told their stories. Their tears flowed freely.

“It happened before the lunch counter sit-ins began at N.C. A&T State University and even before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus,” said Pyatt Jr., describing what it was like to be a college student in that era.

“People were harassed on their jobs, milk deliveries to their homes were halted, and those who worked around the clock in white people’s kitchens were denied credit to get the goods and services they needed for themselves and their families, “ said Rev. Charles H. Brown. “The presence of state troopers on campus was not conducive to learning,” Brown said. He earned a degree in social studies and was later commissioned in the U.S. Army.

“If we didn’t go underground, we would have never gotten of the ground,” said Rev. Dr. Fred H. Moore, who edited he underground newspaper the students established. He described the period as “a time of beautiful unity and nonviolence.”

It was the leadership of students like Moore, who presided over both his class and the S.C. State student body, which held the students together. “We felt a sense of duty and obligation to one another,” said Moore, who studied chemistry at S.C. State. After his expulsion, Moore enrolled at Allen University, where he completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry.

When the students learned that the local dairy owner was a member of the White Citizen’s Council, they decided they would no longer drink the milk that was served in the school’s cafeteria. “We would meet in the cafeteria, join hands, say our grace, and then walk out,” Moore said.

“Lord, you know it’s a new day when college students walk away from potato salad and fried chicken,” Pyatt Jr. exclaimed, as sounds of laughter rang through the auditorium. After while, students would eat nothing that was served in the school cafeteria, Moore said. He said members of the local NAACP usually provided the students’ meals. White faculty members and some black staff members at S.C. State frequently assisted the student protesters, often secretly, Moore said.

Eventually, in collaboration with students from Claflin College (now University), the students stopped shopping in Orangeburg’s downtown businesses that discriminated against blacks and virtually shut them down for two weeks. Occasionally, they would march to the home of S.C. State’s president to lift their voices about some of the injustices they were experiencing.

One panelist recalled how the students helped integrate one of Orangeburg’s movie theaters; the “coloreds only” balcony was packed with students, while the lower level, "whites only,” section was empty.

If a student was hurt or injured on campus, the college’ white physician would not make bodily contact with a black male student, the panelists said. They said he would only examine the black female students.

“We were in an era that bred truth, and the truth was that the black citizens of Orangeburg, which has one of South Carolina’s largest concentration of black residents, were being treated as second-class citizens,” Moore said. “When the black parents tried to fight segregation in local schools they were penalized.”

The students had the courage to stand up amidst firings, expulsions, being drafted into the Army, and being expelled.” Moore stated. Some transferred to church-affiliated schools like Benedict College and Allen University, he said. In some cases, Moore said the state of South Carolina seemed to encourage the expelled students to enroll at a church school in hopes that they “would not cause trouble” nor try to enroll at institutions such as the University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston.

But there were other casualties.

Pyatt Jr's sister, Alice, was attending S.C. State on a four-year academic scholarship. After she was expelled for participating in civil rights protests, her scholarship was rescinded. They could not expel my older brothers,” she said, because they were enrolled in ROTC. They belonged to Uncle Sam.” Pyatt said FBI officials came to the campus and insisted that her brothers could not and should not be expelled. She paid a heavy price. After her parents intervened with education officials in Charleston, she transferred to Allen University and earned a bachelor’s degree in business education.

Jimmy Mae Payne Grayson was expelled in 1956 and was never officially crowned Queen of May. She brought along a photo that was taken some 48 years earlier, in which she wore the white lace gown that S.C. State passed along to each May Queen. Moore crowned her for the first time as family and friends watched. The entire panel saluted her.

Upon conclusion of the two-hour panel discussion, the audience, gave the panelists a standing ovation.

For more information about South Carolina State Museum’s upcoming exhibit, “Student Involvement in the Civil Rights Movement,” contact Elaine Nichols at 803-898-4954 or e-mail her at

This “Black History Flash” article originally appeared in S.C. Black News, published by the S.C. Black Media Group.

Working with the Homeless is Enlightening

By Vasilisa C. Hamilton

Every two years, the U.S. Government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a count of the homeless population but provides no funding to facilitate it. Agencies like the United Way rely on volunteers like Vasilisa to donate time and supplies to assist with their efforts.

I arrived at about 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 25. We made care packages until it was time to leave. Additional supplies were donated since we assembled care packages the week before.

I volunteered with Kristie Marshall and Heather Winkleman, two women from the Women’s Bible Study group at USC, where we work. We attended training together and assembled care packages, which we filled with socks, gloves, hats, blankets, and personal-care items.

I went out with two Colonial Life Insurance Company employees, John Quattlebaum and Debra Goins. They said Colonial Life has a local, as well as a corporate goal of at least 24 hours of community service per employee per year.

We were assigned to the Senate Street Shelter in downtown Columbia’s Congaree Vista area. I also worked with women from Edens & Avant, a commercial real estate company, and the S.C. Department of Mental Health.

Our team leader said it went well because 97 of the 102 men who checked into the shelter completed the survey. We had to walk about two blocks with our care packages, but that was much better than being outside all night long. It was very cold.

What an enlightening experience! The aroma in that place was so powerful that I had to hold my breath. Some of the men seemed to love the attention and were eager to tell their stories. I’m sure living in a place like that doesn’t exactly boost one’s self-esteem.

One man told me that he gets free clothes from various places like Oliver Gospel Mission, and if he can’t afford to take them to the Laundromat, he throws them away and gets new ones. They said the shelter washes their linens about once a month. I spoke to a man who has a prosthesis (his left leg), and one that I surveyed has two missing fingers and is unable to use his right hand. The shelter workers frisked a couple of the men before letting them get into the dinner line. I assume those people have caused trouble in the past.

Many of the men said they were veterans and have had problems with depression, drugs, and alcohol—one told me he has HIV/AIDS. There were some who looked pretty young and others who looked like they were in the winter of their lives. I didn’t’ survey any Hurricane Katrina evacuees, so I don’t know if there were any at our location.

One man said to me, “I bet you work for George H.W. Bush, don’t you?” “No sir,” I replied. “Then who are you working for,” he snapped. “No one,” I told him. “I’m a volunteer.” He proceeded to tell me that he is originally from Anderson County and owned a big farm before his wife died.

There was also a man there who looks exactly like Snoop Doggy Dogg, the rapper. He had a cell phone. One of the men we surveyed told one of the volunteers that he lives in Hopkins (about 20 miles southeast of Columbia) and doesn’t have a car to get to and from work, so he lives at the shelter and catches a ride home on weekends.

I kept thinking that it’s God’s grace that allowed me to go home to a warm apartment when the survey ended. I hope these kinds of experiences will enrich my faith—and my writing.

This article originally appeared in the Press and Standard, Walterboro, S.C.

Saturday, Feb. 24–Sunday, Feb. 25

Join Vasilisa at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center for the South Carolina Book Festival, and purchase Papa Didn’t Preach at a special discount. Also, learn about her current project, a children’s book, Dakota’s Easter Wish.