One of the oldest and largest civil rights organizations in America has returned to the University of South Carolina.
Following a tumultuous 2020 in which the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, online racism, unequal impacts of coronavirus and more dominated the news, USC students have rebooted the campus NAACP chapter.
“I think students are ready for change,” said the organization’s president, Caley Bright. “I think people were looking for that one person to lead or that one organization, and now that we have the NAACP, I think they have found it.”
The group of roughly 20, led by Bright, 18, was formed in January and quickly got involved on campus.
Wednesday, the group led a press conference outside Thomas Cooper library — named for USC’s second president who was a slave owner and white supremacist — where they informally renamed the library the Willie L. Harriford library after USC’s first Black administrator. The day before that, Bright spoke at the S.C. State House during a meeting of the Legislative Black Caucus.
In recent years, while Black Lives Matter and similar new movements have become the face of social justice efforts, some young students chose the NAACP specifically because of the group’s history, said Krishna Alexander, who is the executive board vice president for USC’s NAACP.
Alexander, who is a political science major, said “the NAACP is historically known for being a large, civil rights movement, so all the political giants who have influenced me such as Shirley Chisholm, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., they were involved.”
While many Americans may picture Martin Luther King Jr. as the 35-year-old man who delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech, King and many other activists began their advocacy while in college, said Julian Williams, USC’s vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.
“So many of the folks we revere…these were young people, and so many of the people who had an impact even on the first civil rights movement were college students,” Williams told The State.
Williams praised the students for rebooting the NAACP chapter, saying, “If we’re going to be better as a state and as a campus it’s going to be because of students and their activism on campus.”
Students often arrive in college and become involved with activism. That’s because students are at an age when they’re exploring their identities and interacting with groups of people that may be new to them.
In college, “you’re around probably the most diverse group of individuals you will probably ever be around,” Williams said.
History is a common thread that runs between two of the USC NAACP members The State interviewed. Both of Bright’s parents attended South Carolina State University, the largest historically Black college or university in SC. In high school, Bright, a native of Aiken, S.C., was involved in the NAACP.
Robert Morris, a sophomore and member of the USC NAACP, said he got into social justice movements when he was young, but was at first reluctant, he said.
“The NAACP has a huge historical background and I feel like those roots are really deep and because those roots are so deep, I feel like there’s this huge support network nationwide that will help us with fundraisers or events like (Wednesday’s news conference) or with different political action things we need to be a part of,” said Morris, who is majoring in mechanical engineering.
History was one reason Morris chose the NAACP over other civil rights organizations, he said. But he also preferred the traditional tactics the NAACP uses compared to groups that focus more on public demonstrations, he said.
“The NAACP is really big on political action. We’re not against protesting or demonstrations, but political action is one of the main things that I feel like some groups miss,” Morris said.
Another advantage the NAACP has for students on a diverse campus is it represents more than just the Black community, Morris said.
“It’s about any group of underrepresented people,” Morris said. “It’s beautiful to see the NAACP to work hand in hand with anyone, regardless of your race, creed, color or religion.”
BY LUCAS DAPRILE