By Barney Blakeney
The shocking video went viral. Recorded by a guest in a nearby hotel the picture wasn’t very clear, but it showed a group of Blacks beating one person and then people scattering. The video’s recorder, a volunteer fireman from my daddy’s rural South Carolina home, said at first he thought he was recording people dancing in the street before gunshots rang out letting him know he was witnessing something much more deadly. Before the incident ended seven people, including the shooter, would be wounded, a motorist would be carjacked and the popular beach community once again would be rocked by extreme violence. As I was growing up in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Myrtle Beach was much different.
Until I was a teenager, Myrtle Beach was off limits to Blacks. Racial segregation mandated that Black folks stay on their side of the beach, Atlantic Beach. When Black folks in those days said they were going to ‘the beach’, they meant going to Atlantic Beach. Folly Beach, Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island beaches weren’t inviting. We had Atlantic Beach and Riverside Beach. I guess there were other small places more familiar to locals, but my folks weren’t native Charlestonians so they only knew of the more prominent beaches for Blacks.
Back in the day, going to the beach was a leisure activity. My dad loved the water. He’d find spots where we could play in water and sit on sand. My dad was a country boy, but he didn’t hunt or fish. Sitting around water was his relaxation. Us kids found the water exciting. As we grew older other stuff got our attention. At Atlantic Beach there was lots of other stuff.
There were the pavilions where older people listened to music, danced and drank booze. I was too young to engage any of that stuff. I was fascinated by swimming and just watching the people in those pavilions. Punks Patio was especially intriguing. Don’t really remember seeing any punks. Didn’t really know what that meant. But it seemed that was the most popular juke joint.
The bus excursions to Atlantic Beach were as much fun as the beach itself. It was a long ride marked by the anticipated stop for ice and refreshments in Georgetown. Sometimes the bus would stop at Brookgreen Gardens. I was fascinated by the statue of the horse at the entrance. I’ve never actually been in Brookgreen Garden. That usually was a separate excursion.
As I got older, the Atlantic Beach experience became less alluring. There was enough stuff for a teenage boy to do right here in Charleston. And by the mid-1960s the game was changing. Integration allowed Blacks to go almost anywhere their money could take them. Entertainment venues that previously had been available only to whites offered perceived new and more enjoyable experiences. It seemed the world had expanded. I guess in many ways, it had.
My last pleasure trip to Atlantic Beach was as a high school senior in 1971. My buddies and I, bored one summer night, decided to ride to ‘the beach’. The lure of the water no longer attracted us. It was all about the clubs. We walked around a lot, eventually walking up the beach until we got to the white folks’ side. We knew that because the hotels we could see from the beach were bigger and nicer. I’ve been told there used to be a fence on the beach extending into the water that marked the racially separate areas.
Since then Atlantic Beach, or its white counterpart Myrtle Beach hasn’t held much attraction for me. Like most everything else, the white counterpart to Black institutions have grown exponentially while the Black institutions withered on the vine. I rolled through Morris and Felix streets the other day. It’s like the Brooks’ empire – the motel, restaurant and poolroom – never existed. Same holds true with Atlantic Beach. As a business community, Atlantic Beach is only a memory. No doubt, redevelopment soon will dislodge that memory as well. Scenes like the one recorded June 18 threaten the continuing redevelopment of Myrtle Beach however. And it’s a threat that will not be tolerated.
Okay let’s get to the nitty gritty. White folks will accept that integration has brought Blacks more homogenously into their sphere of economics, but they will not tolerate the violent behavior Black folks so willingly accept. It interferes with the money, honey. Black folks have allowed their young to violently wreak havoc in their own communities, but white folks won’t have it. Myrtle Beach is the state’s biggest tourist attraction. We’re talking about a $7 billion annual impact on the local economy. Ain’t no way white folks are going to let some “out of control” young Blacks mess that up. Gov. Henry McMaster already has offered more law enforcement to the community.
Them white folks don’t want those young brothers and sisters there in the first place. They don’t even want their money! The NAACP had to sue to get the town to open up to Blacks during the annual Memorial Day Weekend Bikefest. Those white folks were closing their shops down although only a week earlier they would accommodate white bikers. In recent years Myrtle Beach has become no stranger to crime. According to one source, it has a crime rate three times higher than that of the state. Myrtle Beach and South Carolina WILL shut excessive violent crime down, people!
The day of the June 18 shooting there were three times as many cops on the street as was usual. McMaster says the state will help the city curb crime, but I doubt that means Myrtle Beach will become a police state. That’s also bad for business. In my opinion, Myrtle Beach will come up with some innovative ways to reduce the number of young Blacks in the town, adopting some of the initiatives employed in cities like Charleston which contain crime and restrict it to certain areas. We can look for the same actions in North Charleston.
While writing this I checked out a police report of a murder that just occurred on Cambridge Street in North Charleston hours ago. As of April 6 there had been 10 homicides in North Charleston. Now, less than two months later there are twice as many – 20 homicides. All but two victims are Black. That’s slaughter, ya’ll! I’ve been accused of hating Black folks and selling my people out all because I speak about the slaughter that’s committed among us. I think a community that allows 18 homicides committed against it and others to confine that violent behavior to its own communities is self-hatred and selling out. Just watch what happens in Myrtle Beach over the next couple of months.