FMU explores history of race relations within Florence

The African-American Faculty and Staff Coalition (AAFSC) partnered with the FMU psychology department to host the second “Cultural Conversation” at noon on Nov. 6 in the FMU Performing Arts Center (PAC).

The speakers were Antonio Cooper, assistant professor of psychology; Erica James, assistant professor of psychology; and Joe Heyward, former vice president of Student Affairs.

The second cultural conversation discussed changes in African-American race relations in Florence and how to create an inclusive environment for people of color.

Kayla Duncan, assistant director of the Office of Counseling and Testing, welcomed the audience. Duncan thanked FMU President Fred Carter and the psychology department for making the event possible.

Heyward, the first speaker of the night, spoke about the evolution of racial issues in Florence. Heyward told the audience about the hardships of segregation and integration when he was a little boy.

“I’m a part of the Jim Crow South,” Heyward said.

Heyward went on to talk about the slow growth that African-Americans in Florence saw in race relations. He said several pastors decided to start a group that focused on race relations in Florence.

“They formed a committee because they wanted to see what could be done to improve the race relations in the city,” Heyward said.

At the onset of integration in Florence, Heyward said his little sister was chosen as one of the few Black students to integrate into all-White school in Florence.

“In 1966, there was an experiment made as far as the public schools were concerned,” Heyward said. “There was a small group of students that were sent to Pointer Junior High School as a test case for integration.”

After speaking about integration, Heyward told the audience that Francis Marion College, at the time, was one of the best things to happen for Florence because of the opportunities it gave minorities.

Cooper and James spoke at the event via Zoom. James and Cooper praised the speech that Heyward gave, and Cooper said he agreed with Heyward when he talked about how simple communication could go a long way to start change.

“It’s the start of a conversation,” Cooper said. “Sometimes, you have to get uncomfortable to become more comfortable.”

James said that improving race relations starts with acknowledging that there is actually a race problem.

“We can’t ignore it and pretend it isn’t there because it doesn’t affect us in the same way it affects other people,” James said.

James said another important step for improving race relations is looking inside of ourselves.

“We have to recognize what is going on and work toward changing it every day,” James said.

James said those were the two key steps that would help solve race issues in today’s society.

At the end of the speeches, members of the audience were given the chance to ask questions or make comments.

Leroy Peterson, the department chair of chemistry, said there was not enough progress being made with race relations because the conversations had started before their time and change was still slow.

“I just don’t see the changes that should be forthcoming after all of these decades,” Peterson said.