The majority of people tend to think that the Civil Rights movement had drastic impact on the people that lived during this time of struggle for racial equality. And it would seem appropriate to think that all African-Americans had a role, big or small, in the Civil Rights Movement, one way or the other. Jeanette Motes, an elderly black lady that resides in my neighborhood, was not one of those people. 

Ms. Motes was born and raised in Kinard, SC and has lived in Laurens County all her life. Ms. Motes did not feel comfortable sharing her date of birth or age with me, and I felt compelled to not ask her of her education level. Her experience growing up as a black child may not seem any different from other accounts, but one can see that her experience is special. I had asked her what rights denied to her made her feel the worst and her response was “I was never denied anything that I couldn’t get. And if I was denied it was because of money. That was the only thing”. Although Ms. Motes did share seeing discrimination carried out in small Laurens County, she plainly expressed that she was hardly affected by it.

Growing up, Ms. Motes had plenty of friendships with black kids as well as white kids. Apparently, the black and white kids did everything together. “We did everything together. We played together, we went to each other’s houses, ate at each other’s houses, and stayed at each other’s houses. The only thing we didn’t do together was go to the same school. Now, I do remember walking to the school for black kids, I don’t remember its name, while the white kids rode the bus to the white school, Shady Grove school. But then, our school got cut, and we started to ride the bus to go the white kid’s school. “ Ms. Motes also mentioned that her mother cooked and cleaned for one of her white friend’s family who rented out a house to them.    

Ms. Motes recalled that when she was older, it wasn’t any different for her.  For a time Ms. Motes worked at people’s houses and then, later on, started to work at Greenwood Mills. Her black and white co-workers all talked, sat, and ate together. She even recalled having one special white friend from work whose husband would share his fish catches with Ms. Motes, and her family. Ms. Motes worked at Greenwood Mills for about 10 years.   

At first, when I asked Ms. Motes of her experience with Civil Rights, her response surprised me. “I didn’t really have anything to do with it. I stayed out of it. I knew what was going on but it didn’t bother me. I was busy working and taking care of my two kids.” Ms. Motes also expressed that she had no opinion of the national figure heads such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. “I would see them on TV. but I never met them or anything. I didn’t really think much about them.”

While Ms. Motes did share with me her indifference to the Civil Rights movement, she did share with me other details that did not escape her attention. She recalls how there was segregation in restaurants in Laurens County. That, however, didn’t bother her much, either. “If I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there, I didn’t see any point in going where they were going to hurt my feelings. If a restaurant didn’t allow blacks in, I didn’t bother even going near it”.  She recalls of one restaurant in Johanna that didn’t permit black people to eat in. Her husband would many times eat from there because of his job. It had a window in the rear where if someone, specifically a black person, wanted a refill, they had to stick their tin cup or thermos through the window to get their refill.   

 I also asked if Ms. Motes remembered any violent incidents in Laurens County or any national events that she remembered from watching the news. Ms. Motes stated that there probably were voilent incidents in Laurens County but she never took notice of them. And for any national event, all she said was that she remembers seeing them on TV but didn’t remember any specific ones.  

Ms. Motes’ experience before and during the Civil Rights movement is intriguing. Although I daresay that her account is not specifically special, her perspective and attitude of the Civil Rights movement and its correspondent events are actually of awe to me. On a final note, I had asked Ms. Motes about her feelings about racism and her words were that, although she knows it’s out there and that it could get pretty bad, “It has nothing to do with me.”

Ahira Sanchez


April 13, 2010

 Wendell Rhodes was born Dec 19, 1943 in Anderson SC.   He moved twice,  but within a 10 mile radius.   Wendell attended North Greenville Junior   College,   where he received an AA degree.  He received his BA degree from Furman University and a Master of Divinity from Erskine Seminary.  Pastor Rhodes has worked in ministry for over 45 years.  Currently he preaches at Friendship Worship Center in Abbeville SC.   Pastor Rhodes was happy to answer questions on Civil Rights.

When I asked Pastor Rhodes about his memories of the area schools being integrated,    he had this to say,  “Yes,  I remember integration,  I was fourteen years old.”  When asked about opposition  his remarks were to the point,  “There was a lot of opposition. The main one I remember was with Governor Wallace in Alabama.  He refused integration until the Federal court said they had to.”  Pastor Rhodes also commented about his local school, “ In the classroom though, I don’t remember much opposition.”

 Pastor Rhodes remembers hearing about all the key figures of the Civil Rights movement, when asked, “Yes,   I do remember stories of Martin Luther King,  Rosa Parks,  and Malcolm X.  They were  all very well known at that time.”

When I asked him of any local Civil Rights figures he stated,   “ I don’t remember any Civil Rights  figures from our area,  none that made a big enough impression for me to recall.”

 Pastor Rhodes remembers about fear of racial violence, “Blacks had there own side of town.  I remember my friends  and  I fearing to go near their residence.”   When asked about how they responded to these fears,  “ I felt like whites were more fearful of blacks, and were insecure in their surroundings, we would avoid them.”

I asked about the amount of time that it took for changes to take place, he simply replied, “I felt like the changes were slow, they seemed to take a lot of time.”

I asked had there been any time he may have been exposed to other races as a child, his response,  “ Yes, I played with them as a child.  I would pick cotton with them,  and  I even lived right up the road from a few families.”

I asked Pastor Rhodes of any specific memories of segregation in SC when he was growing up that he could share with us,  “ I really don’t have any specific memories of segregation in Anderson S.C.”

When I asked about the sports figures of the day such Muhammed  Ali , “At the time,  It didn’t affect me at all.  I admired their accomplishments,   but ashamedly I would have to admit that whenever a white guy was up against them,   I pulled for the white guy.”

I asked Pastor Rhodes if he remembers hearing of the death of Martin Luther King Jr.,  he said, “I was sad about MLKs death because he was murdered but I did not grieve over him. Now it breaks my heart!”   I asked if Martin Luther King Jr.’s  death had any influence on advocacy for Civil Rights, he responded, “At that time I wasn’t advocating civil rights, but as I grew older I was moved by his speaking ability.  Now on his birthday at my church we have a ceremonial service every year that remembers his dream and honors his accomplishments.”

 What treatment to other races did you notice while growing up during segregation did you notice was a question I  asked.   Pastor Rhodes answered, “ No one wanted to drink after the blacks.  I was brought up to think they were beneath me.  My family liked them but we didn’t want to interact with them.”

Thomas Martin

The civil rights movement was a vital part in the growth of our country. When someone looks at the United States now, it is hard to imagine that blacks and whites used to be completely segregated. One of the major steps in integration was combining blacks and whites in schools. It is very warming to know that the children of that generation were the main reason that we enjoy many of the freedoms we have today.

My grandmother was born in Greenville, SC, but she lived in several other states-Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia-before she graduated from high school. Her last year and a half of high school was in South Carolina, a small town near Charleston. Since she graduated from high school in 1956 and from Lander University in 1960, her entire educational experience was segregated. However she became a secondary English teacher and was very much involved with school integration.

I asked my grandmother, “What do you remember about that time?” She responded, “Well, Abbeville County managed to stall full integration for several years by allowing students to choose what schools they would attend. Token integration it was called.” She told me the county also tried to prepare teachers for the change by having blacks and whites take courses together and by having teachers in the same discipline to visit each others’ classes for a week. “I remember that some white teachers were afraid to spend the day in an all black school,” she recalled. “One teacher thought that the big, bulky combs black males carried in their back pockets were black jacks. She could not believe they were allowed to do this.”

Even though the change took place over several years and the district had tried to acclimate both races to each other, there were still problems. Some white teachers quit teaching. Black students who had been “A” students in their school had suddenly found themselves behind their white classmates and struggled to keep up. “Since I had small children, I really could not stay after school very long, so a couple of days a week I tutored black students in my home,” my grandmother said. Although many people were uneasy, she does not recall fearing racial violence. The civil rights marches, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King were, for the most part, already in the past and in larger cities.

I wanted to know, since she grew up in a segregated world, what my grandmother’s earliest memories of blacks were. “We had a black maid who kept us when my parents worked until I was about five, but she was always good to us and we loved her. After my mother stopped working; I didn’t really have contact with blacks much.” She did recall her first realization of how badly many whites treated blacks. “I was about 16. It was after a basketball game in the local soda shop. There was a place in front of this place where Greyhound bus tickets were sold. A black woman came in to buy a ticket and the owner yelled at her and cursed her, telling her to get out and go to the black window for a ticket.” She could not believe one human being could be so mean to another. She has always been a bit idealistic.

My grandmother says that she never really paid much attention to sports figures of any race, so the accomplishments of black sports figures did not really affect her. She does feel that race relations have come a long way from the days of her segregated youth, especially with the elections of black officials on the local, state, and national scene. “In my youth, I would never have imagined the election of a Black President,” she mused. However, although she feels much progress has been made, she does not feel racism has totally disappeared. She is not sure it ever will.

Christopher Simmons

               The Civil Rights era was a very difficult and trying time. School integration was a large part of this movement. I did an interview with Mrs. Alice Freeman. Mrs. Freeman is my mother. I remember her telling stories about having to switch schools and getting bussed around a lot. She was born in 1955. She was born in Winston-Salem N.C. on the outskirts of town. She has moved several times and now lives in S.C. She has attended Wake Forest University and Greenville Tech. She has worked in many fields such as: waitressing, furniture factories, weaving wicker furniture, banking, and for the last twenty years or so she has worked in the dental field.

                The transition from segregated schools to integrated ones was not an easy for the students. She was starting the 6th grade the year their school integrated; she recalls school integration and the troubles it brought in her area of Winston Salem, N.C. Alice elaborates, “I was to start sixth grade. This was a hard time for my age group; you would normally be at the top of your class at the elementary schools in the sixth grade. But the summer before my sixth grade year a lot changed. I don’t think that among kids our age we understood what all the fuss was over or that we had a problem with other kids our age. From the beginning of sixth grade on we were bussed every two years to a neighborhood we didn’t know and with young people we didn’t know and after that two years was up we would not see them again.”  When asked, Alice replies, “In many ways there was opposition but more so by high school students than middle school such as I was at the time. I knew we felt out of place in the first year at the new school and I’m sure the kids that were bussed away from there were feeling the same as we were. A lot of riots broke out in several High Schools in the area. I made friends with people that year never to see them again. It was hard to understand why they bussed us and them. They kept moving us before we could adjust and then the friendships we had made were torn apart.”

               There are many popular people who stood up to fight segregation, were you familiar with any? A question that I asked Mom. In response, she states,”I’m sure they were but mostly I only knew of Rev. King.”  She did not remember, due to her age, but was familiar with the Woolworth’s sit-in.  Mom commented, “I was a baby when the Greensboro N.C. lunch counter sit in happened in 1960 by collage students at the Elm St. Woolworth’s Dept. Store. This sit in was followed and made news headlines as we had sit ins in Winston-Salem and nearby cities.

               Racial violence was extremely bad at this time. I asked Alice if there were ever times that she feared it, she responded, “When martin Luther King was killed, When Gov. George Wallace ran for President several times, his mean heartedness toward blacks, when he was shot but was not killed. I felt surprise when he I had when he apologized for his views toward integration. Also, when Robert F Kennedy was running for President and was killed. I was around nine years old and it seemed there was so much violence in our world. I also disliked the image and thinking of the group that hooded itself in movies that wouldn’t show their faces. As a child I thought they were just story characters in movies but found there was such a thing in the south as the Ku Klux Klan. I also asked her if blacks and whites respond differently to these fears. Her answer, “I’m not sure I can answer that from the view of that child I was but looking back I think possibly whites were more aggressive and afraid of losing something rather than gaining something. I think as kids we just figured we were all Americans and we all came here from somewhere.”

               “Sometimes it takes a while for change to take effect, how did change happen in your home town?” I asked Alice. She responded, “It took time and even today my hometown is changing we now have a very heavy Mexican culture there, as we are seeing all over America sometimes, change is hard but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I have lived in several places including Mexico briefly and I have been around other cultures such as Mexican, Indian, and Cambodian.”

               Mom, not being from South Carolina, cannot speak from S.C. experience but she was shocked to learn about some of the things from the area that she shared with me. She said, “Well, I’m not from S.C. but was shocked twenty some odd years ago when I was told I was sitting in the black waiting room of a doctor’s office. I assumed the person that told me that was kidding but he told her meaning no harm that’s always been the black waiting room the other side is the white waiting room. And no I didn’t move to the other side I was comfortable right where I was sitting. But I could not believe what I just heard.”

               The Black Sports stars of this time over come a lot and were good at the sports the play. Thus they gained some respect. Mom was familiar of some of them although she did not think of them as races only as sports figures. She also recalls the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Alice says, “Yes I recall thinking not another death it was frighten, but at that age I just felt sadness and fear.”

               I was to ask Mrs. Freeman if growing up during segregation, could she recall an early incident when she recognized a difference of treatment on account of color. Her response was, “Yes I had a black doll I took it to school, and I had found it. It was made of some type of smooth wood. I took it to school for show one day and was made fun of in the restroom for having the doll. While the little girl spoke the things to me, a black custodian came out of a bathroom stall, she looked hurt, and she left the restroom without a word spoken. I felt hurt too.

In doing this interview I now know more about her life. She tends to be a history buff and reads or watches programs about different eras in our history. I am certian that she is flattered to now get to be a part of that history. There is much that we can learn by taking the time to ask questions and learn from those who have been there.

Written by, Marcy Pitts

Phyllis Virginia Latimore Keyser was born in Laurens, South Carolina on June 1, 1951. She is my aunt and eldest of six children. She grew up during the Civil Rights era in the 50’s and 60’s. Her time was moderately difficult but not harsh, especially growing up under an unconstitutional Jim Crow law. She attended Sanders Elementary and High School in Laurens. She graduated in 1969 and pursed her career as a beautician. In addition, she was Miss Black Laurens and competed for the Miss Black South Carolina title. Now, she resides in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, Rev. Pierce Keyser Sr.

I first asked her about the schools in Laurens and whether they were ever integrated. Phyllis said, “In 1968 or 1969, when I a was senior; the Laurens District Schools System made it voluntary for black students to attended Laurens High School. However,  half black students stay at Sanders and other half went to Laurens. It was voluntary that time and became a slow process.”

I questioned her about what college she attended. She said, “I almost attended to Morris College at Sumter with a scholarship, but my family cannot afford to send me to college.” After-that, she moved to Atlanta and attended Modern Trend a beauty college to pursue her career as a beautician. I know she is smart person and I am sad that she did not have a chance to go college. However, she used her smarts to get where she is today.

I  asked her if she knows any famous civil rights figures and inspirational civil rights figures here in Laurens. “No, they were just a little town nothing with happen unlike the big like cities at Atlanta, Greenville, or Charlotte,” she said.

I asked if she was ever exposed to other races as a child. “I was only 18-years-old moved to Atlanta after I left Laurens. After I got there, I was amazed to see more people came from different culture backgrounds are Asians, Jamaicans, Hispanics, and Africans. I met a young black woman with English/British accent originally from United Kingdom. It was good to be expose to diversity in Atlanta.” In her own words, she has never seen diversity before, it was so new to her to experience of the city.

I questioned her about the fear racial violence along blacks and white in Laurens “No, there wans’t any violence like I say we where just a small town,” she said. “The tension was not high it was slow-moving, so everyone followed their place.”

I asked her about any specific memories in Laurens during segregation. She said, “I was still at Sanders, Ed McDowell organized the first black beauty pageant at school. The program was called  Black Awareness Movement. I won the first Miss Black Laurens  the pageant,” she chuckled. “We were recognized from the white community and they think we should not done it. So, we continue to run the pageant in 4-5 years. At the Christmas parade, Miss Laurens was in the first car and I was in the second car it was fun. I competed  for Miss Black South Carolina title, yet I was third runner-up, it won by Miss Black Columbia.” Whoa – I never knew that she was into beauty pageants and became  first Miss Black Laurens. I thought no women in our family wanted a future in Miss Black America.

I asked about national black sports figures: Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, and Muhammad Ali and how they affected her thinking and feel about their accomplishments. “Any person with a given chance a lot like Jackie Robinson’s physical took a difficult line. Any average person like Jackie for doing a pact for black people made affect, which he went though,” she explain. “For example, Tiger Wood becomes famous for his golf playing skills, but his father was caddie for 20 years, but was not allowed to play on the golf course. I had once open a boutique store with my background of retail experience. A man had once said to me ‘Blacks won’t shop here’ I was angry and how dare him say that to me. I said ‘What the difference.’ I could careless about his choice of words, but I had a chance to strive of my own. I learned from Ed McDowell and Robert Beasley we need to be twice good to show we can achieve our goals and a force to be recognized.”

I asked her about death of Dr. King and the influence in Civil Rights. She said, “I heard from the media about Dr. King and was devastate like President Kennedy’s death. I knew Dr. King did something remarkable for taking a stand for us  and giving us a voice to speak up. It was not just because he is a black man, but a man had changed the world to made equality for everyone.”

I asked about any early incidents in which she recognized a difference in treatment on the account of color. “As a little girl did not see any diversity treatment before moving to Atlanta. During that time the line was not harsh once before,” she said.

I finally asked her where the least progress has been made in Civil Rights, and she shared her final thoughts. She said, “Employment was dominated by whites; we were outnumbering to compete for work. No one without a college degree work as bank tellers, secretaries, and ministers; professional teachers and principle at school had college degrees. At Sanders, we were influenced by our black educators  to guide us to the light. They do more than just teaching us in academics, they taught us about reliance and character in life. We had been depending on them every day to influence our further our education. I knew my classmates were thinking about majors in business administration, pre-med, and other fields after Sanders.” Her final thought about Sanders was that the students do want an education, go to college, or work, so  they could have  an independent life, which they learn from their teachers.

My final thoughts, my aunt Phil (Phyllis) is one of greatest people in our family. She is educated, loving, and caring as a sister, daughter, wife, and aunt. If she was not here now, I would not be writing on this blog about her history. Her past is new to me, for first time I learned things I never knew  before. Now, I do appreciate her past and I can remember that about her for a long time.

Kayla Allen

I interviewed my great-grandmother Nancy E. Warner. She was born August 31, 1917 in Columbus, Ohio. She told me, “Woodrow Wilson was the twenty-eighth President”, when she was born. She lived in the same town until she got married in 1940. She has lived to see many sweeping changes in our country whether they are economical, such as the Great Depression, or wartime, such as WWII – she has seen it and remembers it all in great detail.

The first question I asked her was to describe how she felt when she heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. She recalls that, “My husband Wilbur and I were trimming our Christmas tree and listening to the radio when the news broke about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was heart-broken because that meant my husband would be drafted.” She also added, “My brother had enlisted in the Air Force and was on a ship to Pearl Harbor before this had happened.” I was surprised the vividness of her recollection, as if it had happened yesterday, this event clearly left a mark on society; even thousands of miles away from the attack.

The next question I asked her was what did she remember about life on the home front during WWII. She said, “It had greatly changed, women took over and went to work in the shops and factories taking the place of men that had been drafted or volunteered for the war. We also had a rationing program, but everyone cooperated and got along.” After the war, women stayed in these non-secretary type jobs and solidified women in the workplace.

The next question I asked her was if any of her family or friends served in the war. She told me, “I had four brothers and Wilbur” her husband, “that were in the service. I lost three classmates in the war.” She then told me about her brother’s service in the war, “My brother Harry enlisted in the Air Force and served in the European Campaign under General Patton. He was gone for four years and never came home once. It was hard to communicate with him constantly moving from place to place. He received four Bronze Stars. Tom enlisted in the Air Force for four years and was in the South Pacific Theatre with Japan, he had a lot of assignments and communication was much better with him. Ralph was at San Antonio, Texas for his basic training, but he had some health problems and received an honorable medical discharge from the service. My husband took his basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida. I moved with him and was able to be with him for nearly two years.”

I then asked her how her family life was effected and how living with rations was like. She told me, “We had no children at the time, so I was able to be with my husband – always fearing that he would be shipped overseas. Since I moved with him, we brought a car with us, so we didn’t complain too much.” When I asked about rationing she told me, “It was not too bad, it showed we were strong as a nation. Some of the things rationed were: sugar, flour, tea, coffee, margarine, shoes, tires and gasoline.” Like she said, I think that rations made our nation come together and showed support for the troops and the cause.

I asked her to recall her feelings when President Roosevelt died in 1945. She said, “President Roosevelt’s death was a great shock to our country, my husband – being a Democrat – felt worse than I did, but I did respect him [Roosevelt].” She told me that she was glad to see the change to terms a president can serve, because she believed that 4 terms was too much.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with her final thoughts on being a civilian during World War II. “My personal memories were thanking God my four brothers and husband came home and were all okay.” She said, “[Now] we have the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Disabled Veterans, and VA Hospitals scattered all over the U.S. and many other organizations that remind us of what happened.” Her main message is to remember our countries veterans and in her words, “They really need our help – and now!”

Nicholas Will

Welcome to the Living History website created by students at Piedmont Technical College!  Here you will find information that has been collected from the firsthand accounts of individuals who lived through two momentous events in American history:  World War II and the Civil Rights movement.  Students enrolled in History 202 interviewed family members, neighbors, co-workers, and other acquaintances.  They then compiled these accounts into what you will find on this site.  We hope you will take some time to read these stories and learn from those who have gone before us, just as we have.

Cami Westall, Instructor of History