COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Many of the protests we have seen in Columbia have been led by young politically engaged activists. Civil rights leaders from the 1960′s say these young activists are a welcomed addition and applaud their efforts of peaceful protests.
Gloria Dreher Eaddy spent years fighting for racial equality. She was a resident of the Arsenal Hill neighborhood and a 1962 graduate of the historic Booker T. Washington High School. Eaddy marched on Main Street here in Columbia and also in Washington, D.C.
Now in her upper seventies, she has a message for those fighting for change.
Her story begins on the steps of Zion Baptist Church in downtown Columbia.
“It was in high school that I realized that I had two friends that had became members of the youth NAACP and they asked me if I wanted to be a part of the movement and they explained it to me and I said yes,” she explained.
That “Yes”, however, came at a cost. Eaddy said when they would meet at one of the churches to prepare for protests downtown, they were met with people who would spit and throw eggs on them and call them names. Although they were persecuted, Eaddy maintained that the movement remained non-violent.
Eaddy had the opportunity to be a part of a protest against segregation and pled for justice in April 1963, when Robert Kennedy came to Columbia.
Later that same year, Eaddy joined more than 250,000 people at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, for the March on Washington, where she heard the defining speech of the Civil Rights movement that she says, almost didn’t happen.
“We were fortunate enough to be right there by the reflection pool and we were right up underneath the podium,” Eaddy said. “When Dr. King started speaking it was so hot out there, the speech was just plain boring and they didn’t realize they had an open mic and Mahalia Jackson tugged him and said Martin do your ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. So he folded up the script he had and went into I have a dream speech and that’s what we remember to this day."
Now 76 years old, Eaddy says the protests that we are seeing this year with people campaigning against violence and systemic racism toward black people is a reminder of her struggle 60 years ago.
“We were protesting the right to go to the movie theater downtown to go to the lunch counters and be able to sit down and have lunch even to go to the city bus line downtown. Everything was segregated so we really were demonstrating for inclusion and our rights.”
While there has been progress, it’s a fight that continues today. Eaddy is ready to pass the torch to a younger generation.
“I’ve lived this long to see so many different changes and yet so many things remain the same I think there is a lot that’s coming out that has been held underground the whole time it hasn’t just started it’s been going on a long time, but now it’s coming to the light,"Eaddy explains,
Eaddy is currently a part of a social justice group comprised of a growing network of faith-based organizations who’s focus is to make the Midlands a better place for everyone. That group is called M.O.R.E. Justice, which stands for Midlands Organized Response for Equality and Justice.