USC hosts "Student Activism, Southern Style"
By Jerrita Patterson
Friday, March 19, 2010
COLUMBIA -- Former USC students, who once protested and fought for
Civil Rights came to the campus to discuss how the earlier years
impacted their lives.
"You go to a football game or a basketball game, back then, and they
would literally play Dixie and there would be a sea of confederate
flags being waved," said former student activist Brett Bursey.
He was sharing the reality of life in the 1960's and 70's. Several
USC student activist from that era, including Bursey, came back to
campus Friday to teach students what inspired them to fight for change.
"If there was like one element, it was the stone-cold racist nature
of Southern society," said Bursey.
Bursey says he was once arrested for burning the confederate flag and
told today's students the flag issue is still alive and well.
Vickie Eslinger was fighting her own battle in the late 60's, pushing
for women's equality.
"We also had problems with jobs," said former student activist Vickie
Eslinger. "Back then you had sex-segregated want ads. So they would
only allow us to interview for certain types of jobs, so we had to
get rid of that."
"I think I have a greater sense of where I'm coming from and where
the university came from and how I fit into that picture," said USC
Sophomore Kate Jernigan.
It's a picture that Jernigan better appreciates, after getting a peak
into the past. She says knowing the history is the only way to avoid
"The people who are passionate about history and who understand
history, are inspired to change it," said Jernigan.
And it starts with today's students, learning yesterday's lessons.
From the archives:
USC student protests
Student activism in the South subject of conference at USC this weekend
Mar. 19, 2010
Some of South Carolina's student activists from the 1960s and '70s
will join historians and lecturers from colleges around the South at
a weekend conference on student activism beginning Friday at USC.
"Student Activism, Southern Style: Organizing and Protest in the
1960s and 1970s" will examine the impact of student protests and
political activism at colleges throughout the South during the
politically turbulent times.
The three-day conference will focus specifically on the Vietnam War,
civil rights and women's rights and will begin with registration and
orientation at noon Friday at the Russell House, at Bull and Greene streets.
Highlights from the event will include panel discussions from such
former student activists as Brett Bursey, Vicki Eslinger and Bob Zellner.
Writer Jack Bass will also screen and discuss the film "Scarred
Justice" about the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre at 9 p.m. Friday in
Gambrell Hall, room 153.
The conference continues through Saturday with a wide variety of
panel discussions and presentations and will conclude on Sunday with
a student panel from USC discussing student activism in the modern era.
Most of the lectures are free.
To learn more or for a complete schedule of events, call (803)
777-6394cq or visit http://www.cas.sc.edu/hist/sass/.
Back-to-Back USC Conferences Address Activism, Social Justice
BY CRAIG BRANDHORST
03/23/2010 - 03/29/2010
Progressive politics are in the spotlight at the University of South
Carolina this month. Last weekend, the university hosted Student
Activism, Southern Style: Organizing and Protest in the 1960s and
1970s, a conference that brought together historians and prominent
figures in the civil rights and anti-war movements. This week the
university's Women's and Gender Studies program hosts the 33rd annual
Southeastern Women's Studies Association conference, which will focus
on art, activism and gender.
The three-day Student Activism conference marked the 40th anniversary
of the 1970 "Russell House Takeover," when USC students briefly
seized the student union to protest the expansion of the Vietnam War
into Cambodia. The conference kicked off fittingly on Friday at the
Russell House with a discussion featuring three former USC students
who worked for social change at that time.
Local activist Brett Bursey who was arrested along with 41 others
during the Russell House sit-in, and who later spent two years in
prison for vandalizing the local draft board on Gervais Street
spoke about the importance of civil disobedience, particularly in the
South, where progressive politics have seldom been popular.
To emphasize the importance of Southern activism, Bursey told a story
about his grandfather offering to pay his tuition if he would
transfer to the University of California at Berkeley, where he would
"[My grandfather said], 'If you stay here, you're gonna get in
trouble, you're gonna go to prison, you're never gonna get a real job.'"
"'But granddad, I don't wanna go to Berekley,'" Bursey recalled
saying. "'I don't wanna blend in. They don't need me in Berkeley.
They need me in South Carolina.' So I made a conscious decision at that point."
Bursey's one-time classmates Vicky Eslinger and Luther Battiste, both
now prominent attorneys, also spoke Friday. Battiste, whose freshman
year in 1967-68 coincided with the assassination of Martin Luther
King and the Orangeburg Massacre, discussed the volatile climate of
that era, particularly for blacks, but emphasized his decision to
work "within the system" as he tried to change USC, which he said
"was not really ready for black students at that time."
"Brett and I approached [activism] in different ways," Battiste went
on to say. "I tried to approach it through student government, trying
to make the University of South Carolina a better place for everybody."
As a member of the student government speakers committee, Battiste
brought prominent blacks such as Mohammad Ali and satirist Dick
Gregory to the overwhelmingly white campus. He also ran the
successful 1971 campaign of USC's first black student body president,
Harry Walker, and was instrumental in starting the university's first
In a talk that anticipated this week's other big conference, Eslinger
discussed the struggle for women's rights in the '60s and early '70s,
recounting her successful challenge of a law prohibiting female pages
at the State House.
Saturday, visiting scholars addressed such subjects as the battle for
sexual liberation and the government repression of Southern activism.
That evening, '60s countercultural icon Tom Hayden joined three other
prominent activists for the keynote session titled, "Coming Down and
Standing Up: Situating the South in the History of Student Activism."
Conference organizer and USC history instructor David Snyder credited
his students with the idea for a conference, which resulted from a
class he taught on '60s counterculture.
The focus on social justice continues as the Southeastern Women's
Studies Association conference gets under way March 25. SEWSA will
bring scholars from around the country to campus for three days of
academic panels, but also aims to involve the local community by
presenting a series of free lectures and performances.
Thursday, University of Southern California gender studies professor
Judith Halberstam will deliver the lecture "Shadow Feminisms" (6:30
p.m. Belk Auditorium, Darla Moore School of Business). Described by
conference organizer Drue Barker as "one of the leading queer
theorists in the United States, if not in the world," Halberstam is
the author of multiple books, most recently In a Queer Time and
Place: Transgendered Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005).
On Friday, Bernice Johnson Reagon will present "The Singing Culture
of the Civil Rights Movement: A Sonic Force for Radical
Transformation of Place and Person" (7 p.m., Lumpkin Auditorium).
Founder of the a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and a
self-described "songtalker," Reagon blends song and speech in her
unique theatrical performances, which have earned her numerous awards
including a MacArthur Fellowship and the Presidential Medal.
The public can attend two programs on Saturday. At noon, local dance
troupe The Power Company will present "Four Screaming Women,"
choreographed by Jane Comfort (Campus Room, Capstone). The modern
dance performance originally premiered the day after the Equal Rights
Amendment was defeated on Oct. 4, 1982. Saturday evening's concert,
"An Evening with Madame F" (7:30 p.m., School of Music Recital Hall)
is a one-woman show written and performed by multidisciplinary artist
Claudia Stevens and chronicles the experiences of Holocaust survivor
Fanja Fenelson, who performed in the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz.
"The conference is looking specifically at the arts and gender,"
Barker says, "but what we're most concerned with is social justice.
People concerned with social justice will like this conference. It's
not just about social justice for women, but social justice for
African-Americans, social justice for the LGBTQ communities and so on."