COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Just a year after World War II ended, a group of African-American and white college students in South Carolina sat down together and called for equality, in defiance of Southern custom — but the memory of their pioneering protest has faded.
Now, a social justice group wants to revive that memory.
The South Carolina Progressive Network included photos of the October 1946 Southern Negro Youth in a new booklet called “History Denied.”
The photos are stunning, with white and black faces in the audience listening to W.E.B DuBois and others call for racial equality and better economic opportunities. The booklet covers the rise and fall of the Birmingham, Alabama, based Southern Negro Youth Congress through that meeting in Columbia, which was the high water mark of the organization.
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“I learned so much on this project — not the least of which is how little I know. The more I dug and read, the angrier I got about my miseducation,” author Becci Robbins wrote in introducing the booklet.
The youth congress was established in 1937 and grew, even through the upheaval of World War II. Once the war ended, many blacks pushed hard for equality, arguing they shouldn’t have been expected to die for their country if they weren’t going to be treated the same as whites.
More than 800 delegates — both black and white and from all over the nation and a few even from overseas — attended the meeting.
DuBois, the 78-year-old civil rights crusader fresh off work with the NAACP to help organize the United Nations, told them they needed to fight for equality where they were and not move away.
“You have got to make it impossible for any human being to live in the South and not realize the barbarities that prevail here,” DuBois said in a widely reprinted speech.
But speakers at the meeting also suggested American leaders who condemned the Soviet Union should first look in the mirror and see what they were doing to their own people.
That triggered accusations that Communists had infiltrated the civil rights movement, a charge that persisted. The headline in a Columbia newspaper the day after the meeting’s end read: “Governor Charges Negro Meeting Was Communistic.”
Files unearthed decades later from the FBI showed federal agents had several informants in the meeting. They took down license plate numbers of attendees and planted microphones in the crowd. The details they gathered would be used a year later to declare the Southern Negro Youth Congress as subversive, ending its tax exempt status and putting the group into a quick decline, Robbins wrote.
The booklet also includes several stories about lynchings and the beating and blinding of a World War II veteran by a police chief in South Carolina that so angered President Harry Truman that he saw the need to fight harder for civil rights and ordered integration of the military.
The booklet will join three others Robbins has written about women at the forefront of social justice in South Carolina — Modjeska Simkins in civil rights, Sarah Leverette in women’s rights and Harriet Hancock in gay rights.
The Progressive Network is holding a party to celebrate the booklet Monday where it will hand out copies. The booklet will also be posted online at the network’s website .