November 2014

Greenville New Year’s Day March

On October 25, 1959, the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP held its annual meeting at the Greenville Memorial Auditorium in Greenville, SC. Jackie Robinson, the famed baseball player, was their invited banquet speaker. When the NAACP leadership took Robinson back to the airport, officials asked the group to leave the main lounge and move to the colored lounge.

NAACP Branch Director, Gloster B. Current, informed the manager that “threats of jail can no longer be counted on to frighten colored Americans who are sure of their rights.” The group informed the officer that they had no desire to create a disturbance, but pointed out that under the rules and regulations of the Interstate Commerce Commission they could not be ordered to move. They all stayed in the main waiting area until the plane arrived.

This energized Greenville’s black community and, in protest, almost 1,000 people staged a march from Springfield Baptist Church to the downtown airport on Jan. 1, 1960. Inside the terminal, Reverend Matthew McCollough of Orangeburg delivered a speech in which he said “we will not make a pretense of being satisfied with the crumbs of citizenship while others enjoy the whole loaf only by right of a whiteskinned birth.”

The Greenville march was quickly followed by the famous Greensboro sit-in and another sit-in at the Greenville Library, led in part by Jesse Jackson, who was one of the Greenville Eight arrested for trespassing. For blacks in Greenville, the Jackie Robinson incident was the rock thrown in the pond, with its ripples playing a key role in changing their world.

Photo courtesy of the James G. Wilson Collection, Upcountry History Museum-Furman University