When Henrie Montieth Treadwell, James Solomon Jr. and Robert Anderson walked down the steps of the Osborne Administration Building 50 years ago, they were met by the tension of a university that had just opened its doors to African-American students for the first time.
But when Treadwell and Solomon walked up the steps to the stage at the Koger Center for the Arts Wednesday night, they were greeted as heroes with a long standing ovation from a packed auditorium. They and Susan Raskin, on behalf of the deceased Anderson, each received the President’s Commemorative Medal and a bouquet of flowers in celebration of the day they desegregated the University of South Carolina.
They were honored with an address given by another hero from the Civil Rights era. Former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young praised Treadwell, Solomon, Anderson and former South Carolina Gov. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings for their roles in setting the state apart and sparing it the “human rights stain” of racial conflict and controversy over desegregation.
He had a lighthearted reprimand for Treadwell, though: “I’ve known her for at least 25 years, and I didn’t know she integrated this place. That’s the humility that she continues to portray,” Young said.
“That’s sort of what’s the matter with our history,” he said. “The people who genuinely were involved and did it don’t talk about it because they know that it was just by the grace of God that they happened to be in the right place at the right time and were courageous enough to do the right thing when doing the right thing might have cost you your life.”
Young shared some of his experiences confronting segregation with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who believed, Young said, that the most important choice a person can make is to decide “what is it you can live for that you would not mind dying for.”
King was a God-chosen man, Young said.
“That kind of God-ordained destiny led this movement through the difficulties that you really ought to take the time to read about, because they’re repeating themselves,” he said.
The struggle for freedom is constant and ongoing, Young said, but “peace is a possibility on this planet.”
No one expected the amount of progress that’s been achieved in the South in the decades since the Civil Rights Movement, he said, and he believes there’s more to come.
“The South that you read about now is not the South that exists,” Young said. “There’s something going on around here that ain’t figured out in statistics yet, and it’s not showing up in the politics. But it’s just about to break through.”