Reviewing Columbia's progress since 1963 - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Reviewing Columbia's progress since 1963

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The City of Columbia has experienced sweeping changes since 1963.

Today our mayor, city manager, police chief and fire chief are all African American. Signs saying "white only" or segregated lunch counters seem buried in time somewhere -- for most of us.

"That kind of growth, that quality of living here in Columbia impresses me of where we've come from," said former South Carolina State Representative James Felder.

In the 1960's, civil and voting rights were just the beginning.  African Americans wanted to be a part of the political process. And in 1970, Felder, IS Leevy Johnson and Herbert Fielding became the first three African Americans since reconstruction to be elected to the state House of Representatives.

"It woke people up that fact that we won because they, I shouldn't say no one, very few, expected us to win that election and we did," said Felder. "And once that was done then they said 'Hey we can do this and that when we get more people registered' and that's when we begin to focus on the city.

But to truly understand the emergence of black political power in the city, you have to become familiar  with the 4 2 1 election system:

"Four members elected from districts, two members elected at large and the mayor elected at large," said former City Council member Luther Battiste. "Before then, council had been all white since the end of Reconstruction. At that time, you had five council members all who lived in one part of town."

But a lawsuit by the NAACP did away with the old format and city council began to reflect the diversity of the city.  Attorneys Luther Battiste and EW Cromartie became the first black city councilmen in 1983.

"When I was I growing up, my idol was Matthew Perry," said Battiste. "And he was a person I saw spend much of his life giving back to the community trying to make a difference and I wanted to be like Judge Perry.  I wanted to come back to South Carolina and try and make a difference and try and make Columbia and South Carolina a better place. And that is why I practice law and that is why I aspire to political office because I felt that I could make a difference."

You'll often hear people say Columbia is the perfect size to make an impact and bring about visible change. 50 years  later and a new landscape of our city is being drafted, perfected even, by citizens who care about Columbia.

"A place that 50-60 years ago had a number of challenges," said Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. "Now our goal is to be the most talented, educated, business driven in America and I believe that working together people across all races we can do that."

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