Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Latest and Greatest

Cousin’s Wedding Was ‘Cloud Nine’ Event

By Vasilisa Hamilton

Here I am in Atlanta at the J.W. Marriott in Buckhead—Valentine’s Day 2009. God has blessed me indeed, and my heart is merry. My cousin Dawn, the beautiful, doe-eyed Ph.D. candidate who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Howard University, is getting married to Sam, the man of her dreams. I’m so excited about this wedding that I believe I can fly. Dawn is already on cloud nine.

I am thrilled to see beloved family and friends for a happy occasion—not a funeral or memorial service—and not in a “season of distress and grief,” as the song “Sweet Hour of Prayer” mentions.

Dawn is one of what I call my two “dishwasher-detergent cousins.” She and Joy, my other dishwasher-detergent cousin, share their names with popular consumer products. Joy married in Maryland (no pun intended in summer 2001 in an African-themed wedding. I haven’t seen some of my relatives since then.

Today’s wedding was Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the 4th of July all at once. While there were no fireworks, it was more than spectacular. Magnificent red roses cascaded from luminous candelabras. Delicate chiffon adorned the winding staircase and exquisite crystal chandeliers. There was the pouring of the sands (red and white, of course), and the ringing of the bells, a game in which bells were placed on each dinner table. When the DJ played “Ring My Bell,” Anita Ward’s disco hit, each person seated at the table rang the bell. Every time the music stopped, the person holding the bell won a prize.

Everyone grooved to “The Electric Slide.” No wedding reception is complete without it. There was also a “candy” bar lined with apothecary jars, each one filled with Jolly Ranchers, Twizzlers, Cherry Sours, Starburst Fruit Chews, Laffy Taffy, and cinnamon Imperials. Each place setting held a personalized chocolate bar with the guest’s name on it.

A ballet company whirled and twirled to Stevin Wonder’s “Ribbon In The Sky.” Family and friends held hands and formed a circle as the newlyweds greeted each guest with a hug, kiss, fist bump, or high-five within the allotted time frame. For winning this promotional contest, Dawn and Sam won a honeymoon trip to Hawaii.

Although I fancy myself a wordsmith, in many ways, I’m at a loss for words. The entrance of the bride was breathtaking, as she was serenaded by “When I First Saw You,” Jamie Foxx’s hit song from the movie Dreamgirls: “When I first saw you, I said, ‘Oh my! Oh my… That’s a dream … That’s my dream.’”

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 atniche@museum.state.sc.us.

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