By Barney Blakeney
Being a newspaper reporter in your home town comes with some really nice perks. And being a reporter for the community’s only Black newspaper offers even more perks!
Knowing the community and the people who live here has advantages that make the job indescribably enjoyable and rewarding. A trip to the grocery store or stopping on Eastside for a few moments to talk with the boys can produce some really good stories. Over the past couple of weeks that’s happened. First, my classmate Sandra’s younger sister called about their mother’s 50th nursing school graduation anniversary and then Legend called me about a promise he’s keeping to a deceased friend. Both stories made my day.
I got the call a few weeks ago from Sandra’s sister, Anita, about their mom’s graduation anniversary from the Medical College Nursing School. Usually it’s the other sister, Cheryl, who corners me – at the gas station, on sidewalks, at cookouts, anywhere – about stories. Cheryl always waits til the last minute to talk to me and wants the coverage that same day. Anita gave me a few weeks heads up. Oddly, Sandra never has called.
Their mother’s graduation anniversary actually is July 18, but the class of about 20 Black women who graduated as Licensed Practical Nurses in the first class of graduates after the Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969 was recognized May 16 at a dinner and May 17 at a luncheon during which the class members were presented medallions in honor of their golden anniversary.
Mrs. Annabell Brown-Seabrook’s graduating class included: Frances Small, Mary Simmons, Ernestine Singleton, Doris Thomas, Alisia Gadsden-Commodore, Althea White, Dorothy Brabham, Mildred Ackerman, Gladys McDaniel, Joan Carter, Susie Testman, Isabell Law, Eloise Gilliard-Ewing, Louise Rivers-Williamson, Mildred Brown and Frankie Miller. Purposefully, they stuck it out during the height of the 1969 hospital strike.
The Charleston Hospital Strike of 1969 was an anomaly that encompassed issues beyond those concerning disparities affecting Black hospital workers. In a recent article commemorating the 50th anniversary of the hospital strike labor organizer Kerry Taylor wrote, “Viewed as part of the longer sweep of local history, the Charleston strike was a spark for continued labor organization among the City’s sanitation workers as well as steelworkers in Georgetown.
“The strike also inspired a mass voter registration drive that led to a dramatic expansion of black voting power and the election of the first African Americans to the state legislature since Reconstruction. In this regard, the hospital strike marked the arrival of the Charleston area’s black working class as a political force with which to be reckoned.” The continued production of Black LPNs who were the backbone of nursing care was an essential part of that. Mrs. Brown-Seabrook went on to become a nurse in the Medical University of South Carolina’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
I got the opportunity to work on another rewarding story after one of the guys from the old Eastside neighborhood looked me up. Legend June 15 will sponsor a free ‘throwback’ bus excursion to Myrtle Beach for some 270 people. Legend promised his friend, James ‘Reefer’ Wilson he one day would sponsor a bus excursion to Myrtle Beach reminiscent of bus excursions conducted during the mid-1900s that took young and old from Charleston to Atlantic Beach and later, to Myrtle Beach for day-long trips to the beaches. The excursions, usually sponsored by churches, social organizations and others, became a part of the fabric of summer for many Blacks.
In 2014 author Will Mordock wrote this about Atlantic Beach: “A remnant of the Jim Crow era, Atlantic Beach was founded in the 1930s by a small group of black businesspeople and professionals as a refuge from the harshly segregated world around them. The Black Pearl, as it was called, flourished throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Blacks from across the eastern United States vacationed there. On summer weekends, farm workers came from local tobacco fields by the truckload. Buses brought clubs and church congregations. And, of course, it was the playground of domestics who worked in area hotels and homes.
“Black entertainers playing the many white beach clubs along the Grand Strand were barred from white hotels. After performing before an all-white audience, they headed to Atlantic Beach — often followed by white revelers — where they put on late-night shows at the Cotton Club, the Black Magic Club, the Hawk’s Nest, or one of the other legendary cabarets. Count Basie, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, James Brown, The Drifters, Martha and the Vandellas, The Tams, Bo Diddley, and Otis Redding all left memories in Atlantic Beach.”
When I was a kid during the 1960s, buses early in the mornings, usually on Saturdays, would load passengers at strategic locations in various communities for the two-hour ride from the Charleston area to Atlantic Beach and years later after racial integration allowed, to previously ‘white only’ Myrtle Beach.
Individuals, family groups and groups of friends packed their own food and refreshments. Those who broke the rules and without permission raided the coolers of others would be discovered after consuming doses of laxatives discreetly hidden in foodstuffs. For many who grew up during the 1950s and 1960s, excursions to the beach were the epitome of the summer vacations. For many the excursions cemented lasting relationships.
Legend promised Reefer, who died last October he would sponsor an excursion for a current generation of young people who never had the experience and for some older people who need to take that trip down memory lane. Legend’s used his own money to hire five buses for the May 15 excursion. All the seats for the excursion are filled, but Legend promises the opportunity will come again. The excursions will be an annual event, Legend says.