Civil rights chief Wright honored for position in 1961 march on South Carolina state capitol – Salisbury Submit

SALISBURY – Last week, on the 60th anniversary of the day she was one of 191 students arrested and jailed for peaceful protest in Columbia, South Carolina, DeeDee Wright returned to where she was once handcuffed and cuffed was dragged away.

Wright, now based in Salisbury, visited Columbia on March 2, 1961 for a ceremony in honor of the peaceful protest in the state capital that resulted in a critical Supreme Court ruling that increased protection for protesters.

Wright found her name engraved in the bottom of the monument, which will stand for years in the same spot where it was once forcibly removed.

The day before, US Representative James Clyburn, DS.C., who had also participated in the march, recorded a tribute in the minutes of Congress saying: “As one of the young people involved in this historic event, Can I confirm that? We are committed to the struggle for civil rights and had no idea that our actions would help uphold the right to peaceful protest for future generations. “

By the time Wright got into a car and drove from her hometown of Greenville, South Carolina to Columbia to join the march in early 1961, she was already well established as a civil rights activist.

As President of the Youth Council of the NAACP Greenville Branch and Secretary of the The Wright State Youth Council had participated in several protests in her hometown the year before.

Photo Submitted – The marker was unveiled in Columbia, South Carolina last week.

Wright, along with civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, was one of eight students known as the “Greenville Eight” who held a sit-in in the white-only branch of the Greenville Public Library in July 1960. During the sit-in, Wright was arrested when he was only 15 years old.

“At that time, most adults really wouldn’t interfere,” Wright said. “Not that they pushed us there, but a lot of them were afraid of losing their jobs, whatever they were, whether they were teachers, postmen or domestic servants. We decided to take it over to fight for our rights. “

Wright’s contact with law enforcement did not prevent her from participating in other protests, including a series of sit-in strikes at the lunch counter in various shops in downtown Greenville.

As one of the students arrested during a sit-in at SS Kress & Co., Wright was a defendant in the Peterson v City of Greenville trial that was finally ruled by the US Supreme Court in 1963. The court’s decision helped promote equality in accommodation for African Americans.

Peterson v City of Greenville wasn’t the only time Wright has been involved in a major Supreme Court case. The next would result from her participation in the March 2, 1961 march in the state capital of South Carolina. The protest itself was organized by the NAACP and brought together around 200 high school and university students to march from the Zion Baptist Church to the State House to protest racial inequality.

“We protested against the capital at the time because we felt we were not being treated fairly,” said Wright.

After the protesters had made a round of the State House, they were told to disperse. Instead, they stayed and started singing. Police arrested almost every demonstrator, citing a disturbance of the peace.

Photo Submitted – DeeDee Wright points her name on a historical marker unveiled in Columbia, South Carolina.

Wright had previously been arrested, but this time she had to stay in jail overnight. Wright said she remained incarcerated for about 24 hours, fed meals comparable to dog food, and spent time in solitary confinement.

After Wright’s release, she returned to Greenville and her worried mother.

“She said, ‘Oh my god, you’re going to kill us,” Wright recalled.

No one harmed Wright or her family, but the increasingly dire threats forced them to leave South Carolina for New York.

“We eventually ran out of Greenville,” Wright said. “We received threats to be killed and our home bombed.”

The impact of the march on the South Carolina Capitol was long-lasting. On February 25, 1963, the US Supreme Court voted 8-1 in favor of the students’ defendants who appealed their conviction for their part in the march. The Edwards v South Carolina ruling remains a major precedent for protecting protesting rights.

Wright has been to her home state several times and has visited Columbia several times. Perhaps most tellingly, it was when she returned to the Capitol last week to see the historic monument honoring the protest and her part in it.

“In a word, it was surreal,” Wright said. “After thinking about it and coming back to Salisbury, it’s something I think will live on. It is something that needs to be honored that way. I never thought that this moment would come. “

The plaque was placed by the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina in the capital. Wright credits Bobby Donaldson, the organization’s director, with creating the monument.

“I am very grateful to him for being persistent and a great historian, and I am so glad that he continues to document our stories,” Wright said.

The new memorial wasn’t the only thing Wright noticed during their visit. The Confederate flag that had flown on the Capitol for over five decades was no longer there. It was removed in 2015 after the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

“After we marched on the state capitol, the Confederate flag was hoisted on the state capitol and didn’t fall until nine people were killed in Charleston about 50 years later,” Wright said.

Although 60 years have passed since the Capitol March, Wright has not given up the fight.

“I’m still fighting for the rights of others and since Salisbury is at home it is still growing a lot,” Wright said. “There is always a fight for African Americans, and given today’s climate, the fight continues.”

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