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South Carolina - Charleston: James G. Blake Interviewee [Part 1]
Dent, Thomas C.
Tom Dent interviews Reverend James G. Blake in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Reverend Blake discusses his activism in Charleston, South Carolina. His family as far back as his grandparents had been involved in the NAACP. In 1957, he was put in charge of organizing the youth chapter by local president J. Arthur Brown and Etta Clark, who sent him to a regional conference in Greensboro, North Carolina organized by Ruby Hurley. He met other NAACP leadership there, and returned to for the youth chapter. He became state leader and then national youth director of the organization, serving on the national board of directors. They held the first lunch counter sit-ins in Charleston in 1960. He was a student at Burke High School at the time. Many students from Burke were arrested and had to be bonded out. He returned in 1963 to begin another movement and hold a mass meeting. Black leadership in the community, including preachers and the NAACP, had already said that there would be no demonstrations in South Carolina. Dent comments that if they had been more accommodating to Blake, they would never have lost to SNCC. They held a meeting at Calvary Baptist Church, where Fred Dawson is minister. For sixteen weeks following, they marched and demonstrated every night and day. They marched King Street and rioted in front of the Charleston News and Courier building, after the paper had tried to suppress news of the demonstrations. As a result, people still say that nothing happened in Charleston. The demonstrations were all led by local NAACP leadership, and Roy Wilkins offered full support. SNCC and SCLC were not involved. The city fathers said that they would set up a biracial committee and declare the lunch counters open if they would stop the demonstrations. Blake left the meeting saying that the demonstrations would not stop until the lunch counters and theaters were desegregated. When they realized that he would not stop, they conceded after sixteen weeks. Blake then found funds to bring the young men who had assisted with the demonstrations to the March on Washington. They discuss the turmoil of 1963, including the assassination of Medgar Evers. Blake was a sophomore at Morehouse at the time he led the movement. The infighting between NAACP, SNCC, SCLC, and CORE kept all but the NAACP out of Charleston. Dent talks about how the various organizations were divided among different regions. They discuss Martin Luther King, Jr.'s prominence following the "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" and reflect on the fact that his legacy now overshadows those of many other civil rights leaders. Blake talks about working at the New York NAACP office. They discuss the internal politics of the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Dent talks about his time working there with Thurgood Marshall and Jack Greenberg. Blake describes the current challenges in Charleston, mainly infighting within the African American community there and a lack of leadership. Younger people have no reason to step up because they have never seen segregation. There is no "Black presence" in Charleston, Blake says. There is no Black bank, or major Black churches or industry. He blames this on a lack of an economic base. He talks about the death of Esau Jenkins, at which he was present. He died in the hospital of an aneurysm following a car wreck. Blake then discusses his work as the Executive Director of the South Carolina Commission for Farmworkers from 1972-1980 and as the pastor of Greater Zion AME Church. He went to divinity school at Boston University with a recommendation from King. He talks about a class King taught at Morehouse College.
Civil rights demonstrations
Universities & colleges
Dent, Thomas C.
Jenkins, Esau, 1910-1972
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968
Tulane University Digital Library
Box 147, Item 14, Side 1, Tom Dent collection, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana
Physical rights are retained by the Amistad Research Center. Copyright is retained in accordance with U.S. copyright laws.