Posted by: palmettoislandgirl | February 1, 2011

Black History Month

The month of February like the other eleven has a number of holidays, observations and important events.  This month includes Groundhog Day, the Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day to name a few.  Carter G. Woodson In 1926, single-handedly pioneered the celebration of “Negro History Week”, for the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

The Black Power Movement of the 1970s emphasized racial pride and the significance of collective cultural values. This prompted the ASNLH, now called the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, to change Negro History Week to Black History Week. In 1976, they extended the week to a month-long observance.

Our homeschool lessons focus on the accomplishments of people from as many cultures and ethnic groups as possible and each month that highlights a particular group, this month is no exception.  So in February we do highlight Black History and especially that of our own family.    This year I begin with my relative Alonzo Gray Townsend. The mother of my paternal grandmother, Gladys Fulton Glover, was Cherry Townsend Fulton. My grand aunt, Sarah Lenora Fulton Johnson, fondly called Lee, wrote a booklet about Rev. Alonzo Gray Townsend.  My cousin Beverly L. Griffin  supplied Aunt Lee with some of the information from the University of South Carolina archives needed for the booklet.  I hope to share excerpts from that resource very soon.  But for now I present a brief biography of Alonzo Gray Townsend. 

Reverend Alonzo Gray Townsend -1853 – 1937

Rev. Alonzo Gray Townsend

Born in Charleston, SC, Townsend married Emma Harleston also of Charleston. To this union, three daughters and four sons were born. Left a widower, he married Ocala Robinson who took excellent care of him in his declining years. Rev. Townsend’s father died when he was two, and at the age of nine, he began working in order to help his mother financially. Rev. Townsend began preaching at an early age. At 14, he was conducting prayer meetings. He entered the SC Methodist Conference in 1878 and retired in 1931. He held many pastorates, from Centenary in Charleston to the humblest mission. He was a District Superintendent several times. He was a teacher at Claflin University and a member of the South Carolina Head of Examiners.

Excerpt below from, Charleston’s Avery Center:  From Education and Civil Rights to Preserving the African American Experience   By Edmund L Drago,

On the Fourth of July 1890 the Avery Alumni Association held its fourteenth reunion in Avery Hall.  The audience was composed mostly of Averyites, sprinkled with a few guests and friends.  The featured speaker was Alonzo G. Townsend, B.A., M.A., D.D.  This former pastor of Charleston’s Centenary Methodist Church was a member of Avery’s first graduating class in 1872 and four years later (1876) received his B.A. from the  University of South Carolina.  His message to the gathering was that the development of the individual and race progress were inseparable.  The race problem if it existed at all, would be solved by education and the accumulation of property.  By making one self respectable, cultured, and useful, an individual contributed to the social uplift of his or her people.  Townsend’s own success as a farmer, presiding elder, and Claflin professor seemed to verify his self-help interpretation of the uplift philosophy. (Excerpt from pages 104-105)

In 1936 the University of South Carolina Alumni Association decided to honor Alonzo G. Townsend, the oldest living graduate, with a “gold headed walking stick.”  The impending award was nothing less than a reaffirmation of his deeply held belief in the social uplift philosophy and his efforts to live it as a teacher and preacher.  However, when the council discovered that Townsend was black, the gold-headed cane never materialized and the octogenarian died about four month after the initial decision to grant him the honor.  The Charleston News and Courier, although conceding Townsend was doubtlessly “a good negro,” thoroughly approved of the decision to withdraw the honor.  The newspaper instinctively recognized the dangers in publicly acknowledging and accepting the cultural parity of individual blacks, especially when the South was facing renewed federal intervention via the courts. It warned that to bestow such an honor on the black alumnus would give legitimacy to Radical Reconstruction, a period of “desecration,” when “aliens, carpetbaggers, scalawags, the scum of the earth, bad negroes and many deluded negroes took over the state and occupied it by force.”  Fearful that black South Carolinians would again seek admission, the Charleston daily loathed conceding that any black person was ever qualified to enter the university.  Its fears were borne out because in 1938, Charles B. Bailey of Columbia, South Carolina, “graduate of a negro college,” applied for admission to its law school.  (Excerpt from pages 184-185)

 Note:  Constructed in 1867 to 1868, the Avery Normal Institute was Charleston’s first free secondary school for African Americans. Reverend F. L. Cardoza organized the school at the end of the Civil War in 1865.

The University Act of 1869 reorganized the University and provided it with generous financial support. An amendment was added to the act by W. J. Whipper, a black representative from Beaufort, that would prevent racial discrimination from the admissions policy of the University. The legislature further proved its seriousness towards racial equality by electing two black trustees to the governing board of the University on March 9, 1869. Nevertheless, blacks were not admitted until 1873 and faculty appointments were made to appeal to the sensibilities of both the Republicans and the conservatives. During Reconstruction, the university was the only one in the South to admit and grant degrees to blacks.  Once Reconstruction ended, the university was closed for three years and then reopened in 1880 as a whites-only agricultural college.    

In 1906, the institution was re-chartered as the University of South Carolina. In the 1950s, other campuses across the state began to be established. On September 11, 1963, as a result of a court order, the university admitted three African-Americans, the first since Reconstruction.

(Avery Normal Institute, http://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/charleston/ave.htm , University of South Carolina Wikipedia, University of South Carolina – Definition)

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