So, when you move to the Upstate of South Carolina, one of the first things you learn is that the Confederacy was born and died right next door in Abbeville County.
Jefferson Davis signed the Articles of the Confederacy during a meeting at the Burt-Starke House in the city of Abbeville, county seat of Abbeville County. Five years later, when the War of Northern Aggression (seriously, that’s what some call it STILL) came to a close, Confederate troops ran through Anderson with the Confederate gold, and stopped at the Burt-Starke Mansion to let Davis sign the treaty that ended the Civil War.
The other thing you learn pretty quickly is that there is a big Black population here. When I lived in Cincinnati, it was shocking how few African-Americans were in the area. That area had about a 5 and 10 percent black population, but here it’s closer to 35 percent, if not higher in some areas.
So, I’d been here for about 6 months, and my newest friend was the public information officer for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. She invites me out to “choir Practice” on a Wednesday night – which is so named because it’s Karaoke night at the Islander, which she gets to go to while her step mom takes her son to church. So, my friend is recently divorced and was there at choir practice with her then loser boyfriend Steve. And Steve, because I’m a reporter and I’m new, starts telling me all about the area. And since he has lived here forever, he just won’t quit. And I’m looking over to my friend to have her help me, but she’s off singing (if you can call it that) karaoke to “You give love a bad name” which seems appropriate for her ex, but seems to be a bad sign for the relationship if it’s about Steve.
Anyway, I’m trying to pay attention to Steve, which is hard because he’s really boring, when he says “Has anyone told you about the Black Panthers in Abbeville?”
Immediately, my ears pricked up. Having covered Klan rallies in Oxford, Ohio and going through riots in Cincinnati, and almost covering the Klan in Brookville, Indiana, I was immediately interested.
“Oh, yeah,” he says. “They’re all over the place. I’ve seen a bunch of them in Abbeville.”
Now, I had just gotten finished writing a story about this guy that ended up stealing about $3k made during an event that was supposed to go to charity. And my editor was constantly telling me to “go out there and rake some muck.” And I’m thinking “Holy crap! Militant black activists in the cradle and grave of the Confederacy? What the heck?! This is going to be a great story!!!”
So I start pumping Steve for more info and I’m asking him where these black panthers are and what they do and what everyone thinks about them. They live in Abbeville, he says, and everyone pretty much ignores them because what else are you going to do, you don’t see them much, so it’s not like you can shoot them.
To say I was a little shocked at that sentence is an understatement.
And then he says “Oh, yeah, I see them all the time on my way to and from work driving down the Abbeville Highway.”
I was looking at him like a deer hit by a bus and I ask, “Well, how can you tell they’re black panthers?”
And without batting an eye he says “Oh, that’s easy – you can tell cause of their long tails. Otherwise, they’d just be bob cats….”
My chin almost hit my beer glass my jaw fell open so much.
Yup…. Welcome to the rural South, Miss Uppity Northern Reporter…
© Liz Carey 2014