In my final installment of articles commemorating Black History Month, I am going to bring your attention to what I and quite a few other history buffs, students, and even one very prominent scholar consider as the five most eventful occurrences that advanced African-Americans in Dillon County. Without any argument or controversy, our number one choice was pivotal and foundational to the progression and general well-being of African Americans in the locale some years before Dillon became an official county.
The Establishment of African-American Churches
Long before Dillon became a county, Pine Hill African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church was founded in 1876 and was located on what is now S.C. Highway 34. According to the historical documents, fifteen years after the church was founded, in 1891, Mr. Alfred Franklin Page and his wife, Mrs. Laura Page, donated the church 1.97 acres of land at what is presently 2258 Centerville Road, Latta, South Carolina (located just off Highway 34). This remains the present location of the church in a new sanctuary that was erected in 1977. Pine Hill, according to the historical record, was one of (if not the oldest) African-American churches in Dillon County and was established long before Dillon obtained county status. In the preceding years, after the establishment of Pine Hill A.M.E. Church, many African -American churches from various other denominations (like Free Will Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, A.M.E. Zion, Pentecostal Holiness, and a slew of other A.M.E. churches) came into existence in the county. These houses of worship were the first central places of public gathering for Blacks to interact and conduct civic business and many served as schools for African American children. A few of the schools built by the Rosenwald Foundation for Black students in the area were situated and affiliated with Black churches in the area So, in a real way, as it was in the days of Richard Allen, Absalom Jones, and so many other historical figures, the Black Church in Dillon County led the way for both spiritual guidance and secular advancement.
From The Farms
The next eventful occurrence that advanced African- Americans in Dillon County (after the establishment of quite a few black churches from various denominational affiliations) was the continual exodus of Blacks from the farms For many generations after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation (that was issued by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863), Blacks in most parts of the confederate states still lived on farms that were once owned by descendants of their former slave masters. Though some owned and farmed their own land (like a few managed to do in the Skillet Community of Dillon County), the vast majority of African-Americans were caught in a type of bondage and dependence upon the White landowners and farmers for whom they served as farm hands. A few managed to make a pretty decent living as sharecroppers, if they were disciplined enough to stay out of debt with the landowner they were in partnership with. However, for the most part, African-Americans did not advance on these farms and thus a desire for a better life precipitated the Great Exodus. Blacks left the farms in droves and moved to the city of Dillon and other areas of the county (like Newtown, Latta, and Lake View) in pursuit of a better life. Many were forced to migrate up the road (North) because they could not find gainful employment in Dillon.
After the mass departure of Blacks from the farms where they had been living (for the most part) in abject poverty and without any hope or opportunity for a better life, they landed in and around the towns of Dillon, Latta, Lake View, and Little Rock. The vast majority of them who stayed in Dillon County and did not journey North as a part of the Great Migration, found themselves with a common dilemma. They did not have jobs. Some were very fortunate to have been placed under the tutelage of a few White contractors who gave them a chance to be apprentice carpenters, bricklayers, cement finishers, plasterers, and etc. Regrettably, most had to do seasonal work in the fields on some of the same farms they left until employment opportunities came their way. Corporate employers like South of the Border, Rownd and Sons Basket Factory, Dillon Veneer, and a few others gave many African-Americans gainful employment when others, who adhered to the racist practices of Jim Crow, would not. There would ultimately be other corporate employers who would hire a few blacks, like Dixiana Mills, Craftex, Hamer Spinning Mills, and perhaps a few more. Nevertheless, it was through the consideration and employment of those we mentioned first that many African -American families survived and made it long before the arrival of corporate citizens, like Wix, Harbor Freight Tools, Perdue Farms of Dillon, Wyman-Gordon, Inlet Port of Dillon, and a few others who have given African Americans gainful employment. South of the Border, Rownd and Sons Basket Factory, and Dillon Veneer pioneered the practice of giving African-Americans employment.
of Schools Throughout
Though there were public schools and a few Rosenwald schools strategically located throughout Dillon County, the establishment and erection of many more modern schools in places like Lake View, Latta, Little Rock, Hamer, Minturn, Beaufort’s Quarters, and of course, Gordon in Newtown, must be included in the number of most eventful occurrences that advanced Blacks in Dillon County. Due to the fact that no person or people can truly ascend and advance without the foundation of an education, these schools were built under the dubious and somewhat hypocritical policy and practice of Separate but Equal were nevertheless better than what they replaced. They afforded African-Americans a better opportunity to progress and go to the next level educationally and occupationally.
The Creation of Minority Voting Districts
The final occurrence that helped to advance African -American life in Dillon County was the formation of voting districts that were comprised of a majority of Black Dillonites. The Voting Rights Act that President Johnson signed into law in 1965, finally toppled the at-large-system in Dillon that had allowed any person in the county to run and represent any district regardless of where it was. Three out of seven districts were mapped out where Blacks were the majority. This consequently gave African -Americans on both the County and City Councils the best political representation that they had ever had. Because no people can advance without having political and civic representation, the formation of these districts must be regarded as one of the eventful occurrences that helped to advance blacks in Dillon County.