Still Fighting the Good Fight
Edwards v. South Carolina: 61 years later
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - “We were young, we didn’t have sense enough to be afraid. The Lord took the spirit of fear out of us, we knew we were going to take blows or whatever might happen, but that didn’t stop us we just kept moving. It was amazing how it happened, just seemed like the Lord said, just go, just move!”
Rev. James Edwards reflects on one of the core demonstrations that helped foster the civil rights movement.
“We are the backbone of America today, and there’s so many historical people that helped bring this over, black and white,” says Edwards.
On March 2nd 1961--- Edwards marched beside nearly 200 other African-American high school and college students to the state house-- to protest segregation and racial discrimination.
A freshman at Benedict College at the time, he was eager to be a part of the good fight. He remembers the planning and organizing before that momentous day.
“When I hit Benedict College campus, I met a man by the name of Dr. Quincy Newman. Something told me to jump up and I said okay...like saying an amen to him some kind of way. He looked over to me and he said what’s your name young man, I told him my name was James Edwards , he said where are you from? I said I’m from 96 South Carolina, yes, he said alright alright I can use you.”
He says that fighting spirit is what kept him going despite the backlash and violence.
“There’s a lot of times wanted to hit back, but we were taught not to hit back in the movement. A lot of times we had to take the blows, you had to be spat upon. A lot of folks died, but at the end we won. We won the battle,” says Edwards.
Even though the march was peaceful, many participants were arrested for disturbing the peace. Including Edwards—who faced one of the largest fines and spent the most time in jail following the protest.
Two years later, Edwards v. South Carolina was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices ruled the arrests were unconstitutional.
The ultimate ruling of the case-- forbidding a state from making the peaceful expression of unpopular views criminal--has been used as the precedent to protect the first amendment rights of protesters ever since.
But for some time—Rev. Edwards was unaware he was the lead plaintiff in the case.
Dr. Bobby Donaldson, the director of the Center for Civil Rights History and Research at UofSC says he did some digging to get in contact with some of the former protestors.
“When we found the arrest records, of those who took part in that protest, we saw the names of all the young men and women, and we started tracking them down,” says Donaldson.
Dr. Donaldson says they came across Edwards name---and reached out to him in Augusta, Georgia.
“We said were looking to talk to you about this supreme court case in your name. And at that time he said what supreme court case? He remembered a protest, he remembered going to jail, but he was not fully aware that his arrest lead to litigation that became a landmark case.”
Now 61 years later---Edwards says we’ve made progress---but there’s still more to be done.
“America’s in judgement, so we’re going to have to get it right from the capital at the state house, to the white house—all the way down. You cannot change a person’s heart, only God can do that. But we can change the laws, rules, and regulations, “says Edwards.
Dr. Donaldson agrees, stating that this kind of history is a reminder of how the lessons of the past can be utilized to address some very glaring problems today.
Rev. Edwards encourages this generation to continue the fight.
“Get in good trouble, go out and move stand up for what’s right.”
And he reminds us that love will always win
“All over the United States—there must be changes, the heart’s going to have to change the minds, and one of the greatest things of all is love. Love your neighbor, love thy neighbor as thy self.”
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