Orangeburg photographer lets others relive civil rights movement through his lens

Orangeburg photographer lets others relive civil rights movement through his lens

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (WIS) - If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum has a lot to say.

Cecil Williams, 81, opened up the first Civil Rights museum in South Carolina earlier this summer. Williams said he took matters in his own hands after waiting for someone else do something for years.

“I was very fortunate to have a front seat to history,” Williams said.

The Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum is full of Williams’ photographs from the 50s and 60s. “The capacity of a single photograph to capture one moment is powerful,” he said.

Williams said the goal of his museum is to preserve the people and events of South Carolina who shaped America during the civil rights movement.

“The state of South Carolina has really been left out of the credit it deserves,” Williams said.

From 1955 to 1969, he worked as a freelance journalist for Jet Magazine. Williams was there for every big moment, like the day Harvey Gantt attended Clemson, the Orangeburg Massacre and the Charleston Hospital Workers’ Strike. Williams said he was jailed twice.

“I don’t regret the hatred and racism I endured,” Williams said. “I feel it’s a badge of experience and courage I wear as a result of these experiences.”

Williams started the museum on his own. He said he has thousands of photos he still has to digitize.

“Whenever you believe in something in your heart, I think you should go ahead and do it,” he said. “Especially, if it’s something that is genuine and worthwhile and something that benefits humanity.”

What makes the museum even more special to Williams is the fact he designed the building himself. Williams wasn’t accepted by Clemson to study architecture because it was not integrated yet. Williams bought himself a drafting board and designed a home. He and his wife lived in the home for years and now it is the site of the museum.

Williams said the museum will continue to grow over the years. He hopes people with artifacts and photos come forward and share them with the museum.

“There is so much history out there that has yet to be discovered,” he said.

For more information on the Cecil Williams Civil Rights Museum, click here.

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