By Barney Blakeney
From the beaches to the Lowcountry, Black women are seeking to make history being elected to public office. In Myrtle Beach, Robin Ruth Gause hopes to become the first African American woman elected to S.C. House Dist. 106. In Walterboro, Marguerite Chrissy Johnson hopes to become the town’s first Black female mayor and Peggy Hammond hopes to become the first Black female to sit on the town council. Black women never have held any of the offices and none of the three women previously have held public office.
Gause has the most political experience, however. The Hampton native has been active in Democratic Party matters for many years. She has been a precinct president and last year was the first Black female to seek election to Horry County Council. The mother of six has worked in prenatal and childbirth healthcare in communities throughout Williamsburg County and Horry County.
Gause also feels strongly that everything possible must be done to increase the education of Horry County children and adults at every level. Since Horry County is a major tourist destination, much of local employment is seasonal. That being the case, government and the school system need to provide programs for increased training and education, she said.
“There is a demand for equality and continued education with the vast growth of diversity and tourism, with a multicultural influence in Horry County,” Gause said. “Given these facts, we’ll need to work with area businesses, the school district and other institutions of higher education for a broader future for our communities.” She feels being the first Black female candidate for the office is an asset.
In Walterboro, Johnson and Hammond take less pronounced positions. Still, Asya McCord, a campaign worker for Hammond, acknowledges their candidacies are historic. It’s significant because there never has been a Black woman in either office, she said.
Beyond the historic significance, Hammond says her candidacy has more practical applications. Like Gause, Hammond previously ran for public office. She was a write-in candidate in the 2011 city council election, but quickly adds, “I am not a career politician. I am a citizen who has great concern for my community. I believe that given my community experience and activism, I can help grow Walterboro as a city council member.”
Community service is in her blood, Hammond said. She doesn’t want to live in a community with so much poverty and do nothing. A small business owner, Hammond said she understands the impact of unemployment in Walterboro’s crime rate. Jobs and business development are crucial in a community designed to facilitate a permanent underclass, she said.
“It’s about control,” she said. So if elected, among her first priorities will be energizing the town’s approximately 50 percent Black population. She noted no Blacks presently serve on the town council. “People are discouraged because they don’t see anybody there who they identify with.” In the absence of willingness from the larger community to address disparities, Hammond says she will work to energize residents to empower themselves.
Johnson could not be reached for comment. She is the owner of a Walterboro insurance company. This is her first excursion into the local political arena.