Calendar Honors Black Leaders
By Cindy Landrum
They made their marks on South Carolina.
A.J. Whittenberg once sued the Greenville County School District after the superintendent denied requests for his daughter and five other Black children to attend white schools. Now, there’s an elementary school named after him.
After a high school career that saw him earn All-American and state Player of the Year honors, Casey Manning became the first African American basketball player at the University of South Carolina. Now, he spends his life on a different court as a circuit judge.
Besides running the oldest African American business in Charleston, brothers Herbert and Bernard Fielding played key roles in the civil rights movement.
They are among those honored in the 2021 African American History Calendar that profiles individuals who have impacted South Carolina and beyond. The calendar, first published in 1989, bolstered the state’s African American history curriculum.
Seeking the best education
Something caught A.J. Whittenberg’s eye when he attended a Democratic Party precinct meeting at the whites-only Anderson Road Elementary School in 1962. The school’s new textbooks were in stark contrast to the battered hand-me-downs used in the all-black school his daughter attended.
Whittenberg requested his daughter go to the Anderson Road school, which was closer to their home than the school to which they assigned her.
He sued the school district after it denied his request. Five other parents joined in the lawsuit. They won, and Whittenberg’s daughter, Elaine, became one of the first African American students to desegregate Greenville schools in 1964.
Greenville County Schools named A.J. Whittenberg Elementary, the first elementary school in South Carolina with a school-wide engineering curriculum, after the civil rights pioneer. The school earned a National Blue Ribbon in 2020.
Whittenberg didn’t limit his civil rights work to schools.
Whittenberg helped organize a New Year’s Day 1960 march that protested segregated facilities at the Greenville Municipal Airport. The march, which drew national attention, came after baseball great Jackie Robinson and other African Americans were threatened months earlier with arrest for sitting in a “whites only” section of the Greenville airport following Robinson’s speech at the state NAACP conference. He also took part in a boycott of white taxicab companies after the lynching of black cabbie Willie Earle.
Making his mark on the court
Casey Manning is at home on the court.
In 1969, Manning led Dillon High to the Class AAA state basketball championship while earning South Carolina Player of the Year and All-American honors.
He was the first African American to play basketball at the University of South Carolina. Manning told writer Willie T. Smith in a 2018 article published on coladaily.com that he wanted to go to Davidson College, saying, “I didn’t particularly want to be the first African-American anywhere. There’s an old saying that it’s tough on pioneers, and it’s true… It’s tough, but it was universal. It was across the board whether it was the University of South Carolina, the University of Tennessee, or anywhere in 1969, it would have been the same thing.”
He is a member of the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame.
While Manning still has ties to the Gamecock men’s basketball program as a radio color analyst, he’s making his mark on a different court. In 1994, the South Carolina General Assembly elected him a circuit court judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit.
Runs in the family
Serving people ran in the Fielding family. Brothers Bernard and Herbert, both now deceased, each served as CEO and president of the family’s funeral home business, Fielding Home of Funerals, one of Charleston’s oldest African American businesses.
But that wasn’t the only way the Fieldings took care of Charleston. Both men were active in the NAACP, and both accomplished noteworthy firsts.
In 1965, Herbert Fielding founded the Political Action Committee of Charleston County to provide voter education and promote the employment of African Americans to voter registration and school trustee boards. Five years later, he became the first African American legislator elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives since Reconstruction. He served in the state Senate, too, and ran unsuccessfully for Congress. While in the Senate, he became chair of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.
Bernard Fielding blazed trails in the legal field. He was appointed associate probate judge in Charleston County in 1976, the first African American to hold that position in the state. In 1990, he became the first Black elected Charleston County probate judge. He provided legal representation for young protesters during the civil rights movement, and he was the first African American president of the Young Democrats of Charleston.
The 2021 calendar honors 10 other African Americans:
Florence native and educator Allie Brook served Florence area public schools for more than 35 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent.
Gilda Cobb-Hunter became the first African American woman in Orangeburg County elected to be a South Carolina House of Representatives member. Cobb, often called “the conscience of the House,” became the first person of color to lead a legislative caucus after her election as House Minority Leader.
Rosa Franklin, a native of Cordesville, South Carolina, was the first African American woman to serve in the Washington State Senate. Before her election to the Washington State Senate, she had served in the Washington State Legislature for 20 years.
Hartsville native Sherman James was the first African American elected president of the Society for Epidemiologic Research, the largest professional society of epidemiologists in North America. In the early 1980s, James formulated the John Henryism Hypothesis, which posited that repeated, “high-effort” coping over many years of adversity caused by structural racism contributes to the high risk for hypertension in African Americans.
Willis and Clara Langley were the first African American couple to purchase a McDonald’s restaurant in Columbia. Although they hailed from Washington, North Carolina, the Langleys immersed themselves in Columbia through their work with the NAACP, Urban League and Chamber of Commerce and other community organizations.
The late Amy Surginer Northrop was the first African American state inspector of beauty shops in South Carolina. She is a South Carolina Black Hall of Fame member, and the U.S. House of Representatives paid tribute to her on her 100th birthday in 2005.
The late Gloria Blackwell Rackley was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement in Orangeburg. She sued the Orangeburg hospital after being arrested for sitting in the “whites only” waiting area of the regional hospital when her daughter needed emergency care. She won the lawsuit, and they integrated the facility.
Bowman native Nathan Spells Sr. is the CEO and founder of Construction Dynamics Inc., one of the Southeast’s leading minority-owned and operated General Contracting and Construction Management firms. He started the company from his garage.
Dorris Wright, a Greenville native, played an integral role in the Upstate’s Civil Rights Movement and led Greenville’s first sit-ins at lunch counters. Wright was a plaintiff in Edwards v. South Carolina, a lawsuit filed after 187 Black students’ prosecution for peacefully assembling at the State House. The court ruled state government officials could not force a crowd to disperse when they are otherwise legally marching in front of a statehouse.
“This year’s calendar honorees have demonstrated lifelong commitments to improving the lives of their fellow Americans and South Carolinians,” said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman in a press release. Besides the South Carolina Department of Education, calendar sponsors are AT&T, Dominion Energy, South Carolina ETV, the University of South Carolina and WIS-TV. The calendars are printed and distributed free to schools, faith-based organizations, community centers and the public. They are available at https://scafricanamerican.com/.
Behind the Cover: Jenkins Orphanage
When the Rev. Daniel Jenkins started a band at the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, it was a way to raise money.
It became the conduit for spreading Southern jazz to the world, served as a training ground for dozens of top African American musicians, and helped create a new dance step that defined the “Roaring Twenties.”
The 2021 South Carolina African American History Calendar’s cover features the North Charleston orphanage, which is now known as the Jenkins Youth & Family Village.
Jenkins founded the orphanage in 1891 after he went to the railroad yard to pick up a consignment of wood and discovered four Black boys huddled in an empty car. After the boys told him their parents had abandoned them, Jenkins took them home. He and his wife fed them and gave them beds.
The orphanage started on King Street but moved to Franklin Street after the South Carolina Medical College gave Jenkins the old Marine hospital.
The Jenkins Orphanage Band played for presidents and royalty.
Many band members became legendary jazz performers, including William “Cat” Anderson, a trumpeter who played with Lionel Hampton. Freddie Green wasn’t an orphan but was taken in by the Rev. Jenkins anyway. Green became Count Basie’s lead guitarist and played at President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural ball.