$750k in grant money aims to help turn Orangeburg All-Star Bowling Lanes into ‘community asset’

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Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 9:15 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A local nonprofit is forging ahead with plans to revitalize All-Star Bowling Lanes, the backdrop of the protests that culminated in the Orangeburg Massacre, thanks to a $750,000 grant.

The Center for Creative Partnerships received the funds from the National Park Service. They are a portion of the $8 million South Carolina got, all of which are part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program.

In 1968, businessman Harry Floyd had an all-white policy at All-Star Bowling Lanes, refusing to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On the evening of February 8, protests turned deadly when South Carolina Highway Patrolmen opened fire on unarmed students, killing three and injuring 28.

With the funds, Ellen Zisholtz, president of the Center for Creative Partnerships, said the venue is one step closer to becoming a “community asset.”

“People don’t realize it but so much of civil rights history happened in Orangeburg, and we’re going to let people know that because this is going to be a really important city in South Carolina and in the country,” she said.

The bowling alley has deteriorated over time, but much of it still looks the same as it did in the 1960s, with bowling balls and pins collecting dust.

Phase one of the preservation, which is near completion, includes putting a new roof on the building and getting rid of the hazardous materials inside.

The nonprofit received $500,000 in grant funds from the National Park Service in 2021 to begin work on the initial phase.

With this funding, the Center for Creative Partnerships going to start phase two of renovations, which includes resurfacing and fixing up the bowling lanes.

The grant money will jump-start efforts to add an HVAC system, get new plumbing, and renovate the bathrooms and office spaces.

Once preservation is complete, it will be a first-of-its-kind civil rights museum, complete with 16 active bowling lanes.

“We want people to have a good time, enjoy themselves, but we also want them to know the history,” Zisholtz said. “If you don’t tell people the history, it’s going to keep repeating itself. We want to have the history, we want people to understand what happened and then we want to do reconciliation after truth. We want the community to come together.”

The All-Star Justice Center will include exhibits, and Zisholtz said they will host conversations about civil rights and racial justice there as well.

Zisholtz said she expects this will help to revitalize downtown Orangeburg, and will likely draw students from the area’s colleges and universities.

Jennifer Johnson is a distant cousin of Henry Smith, who was killed in the massacre and has another cousin who was among the 28 survivors.

Johnson said this was a wonderful tribute to the victims and a reminder to the next generation of the sacrifices and contributions that were made in the fight for African Americans to obtain equal rights.

“It’s a process of healing, not just for my family but all three families that lost someone but all of the 28 that were shot, and all the people who saw it and had stories,” she said. “It’s a part of our history that needs to stay alive.”

From decades of pain and trauma, the community believes that hope will emerge in this space.

“It’s a beautiful thing to happen, you’re taking something negative in All-Star Bowling Lanes and you’re going to make it a beautiful not just a memory, but also something that you can reflect back on and say, ‘Hey, this never should ever happen again,’” Johnson said. “And kids need to know that, that it wasn’t that easy for them to go into stores or drink out of certain water fountains, and that these doors were opened because of the sacrifice that was made.”

The Center for Creative Partnerships estimates that the bowling alley could reopen in its new capacity in another two years.

Congressman Jim Clyburn released a statement on the grant money, which reads, “I am pleased to see the National Park Service’s continued dedication to preserving the history of African Americans in South Carolina and throughout the country. It is imperative that we continue to protect and celebrate the places, people, and stories of one of the greatest struggles in American history.”

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