John B. and Marie M. Epps, as civil rights and community leaders, made a positive impact on the lives of South Carolinians during the era of Jim Crow politics and racial discrimination.
As a textile worker at JP Stevens’ mill during the early 1960s, John B. Epps sought to ease discriminatory practices that inhibited black employment and career advancement. His efforts led to a federal investigation that resulted in improved conditions and opportunities for black workers to advance in manufacturing positions.
Marie M. Epps, through her work with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., educated elderly citizens to become eligible voters. She and her husband used their personal automobile to transport citizens to voting polls on Election Day.
They also provided housing for young white students who were active in the civil rights movement, as part of their work with the SCLC. They led demonstrations against segregated lunch counters, restaurants, and public swimming pools at great risk and were victims of threats or acts of violence from the Klu Klux Klan (KKK). During the summer of 1965, a student and civil rights worker from UCLA was beaten unconscious by members of the KKK before rescued by citizens of the Black community. After a threat of cross-burning on the front lawn of their home, John Epps once sat up all night at his front window with a loaded shotgun, promising “if they light the cross, they will not live to see it burn.”
In later years as entrepreneurs, the Epps’ opened the first upscale diner/restaurant in the black community that also provided an outlet for youth with a game room and live entertainment on weekends.
They overcame racial discrimination, lived during 15 U.S. presidential terms, but were overjoyed to vote for and witness the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th U.S. president. John Epps passed in August 2009, Marie is now 92, and together they raised eight children.