COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA)- In honor of Black History Month, 7news has been working on special stories for you showing the contributions, the accomplishments and legacy of African American in South Carolina.
After Reconstruction the SC legislature consisted of 63 members, 50 of whom were African American.
And even though the state’s current General Assembly doesn’t have that type of representation, the African American representatives and senators serving are leaving their mark on the state.
44 African Americans currently serve in the State House. While it’s a small proportion of the 170 total members, these men and women with different backgrounds, inspirations, and lessons are making big strides under the dome.
“My dad founded a non profit in rural South Carolina in Hampton, South Carolina,” said Representative JA Moore, one of those lawmakers.
Representative Moore represents Charleston County, but the young chef had his taste of politics early in Hampton County.
Moore explained, “The first campaign i can remember working on I was about 9 years old and Joe Riley ran for governor and I was passing out bumper sticks with my dad on behalf of Mayor Riley. I went to school to cook. I’m not a lawyer but I care about people.”
Like Rep. Moore, Bakari Sellers also drew his inspiration to lead from his father.
“I’m a child of the Civil Rights movement. My mother and father were both active in the movement. My father was the field director and was involved in the Orangeburg Massacre of 1968.”
Sellers became the youngest man elected to the SC General Assembly at just 22 years old. Other lawmakers used previous experiences to hone in on the passion to lead.
Like Senator John Scott, one of the most senior African American members in the State House. The Richland County lawmaker recalled his time as a Boy Scouts leader.
“I was probably about 10 years old and it was heard of especially in the south for African American boys to be involved in the Boy Scouts,” said Senator Scott.
Senator Scott held a seat in the State House in the early 1990’s when the dynamics started to shift and more African Americans found themselves sworn in as elected public officials.
Scott added,” You got to remember there was a change in time from those of us in the 60s and those of us in the 80s and 90s. So I saw myself as a change agent. I came to the house in 90-91 and was the first to be the chair of the freshman class.”
Representative Moore is a newer lawmaker in the State House, elected more than 2 decades after Senator Scott. Moore is part of a wave of new and diverse lawmakers in the state house.
These lawmakers are inspired by the need for change and the work of leaders currently serving in the General Assembly, like one of the longest serving African Americans in the House of Representatives.
Sellers spoke on the lawmakers he looked up to when he entered politics.
“I think at the top of anybody’s list should be Gilda Cobb Hunter, just because of the ground she has paved for the rest of us to come behind.”These lawmakers also draw on the legacy of those no longer with us.
“He didn’t thrive off of titles, he was one that would go meet the people and find out what’s going on in the community he was very hands on,” described Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of Clementa Pinckney.
Clementa Pinckney was the youngest African American elected to the State House at just 23 years old; a feat that seemed almost impossible for a young black child from Jasper County.
Pinckney explained how Clementa entered the realm of politics. “At the time Representative Juanita White had approached to run for her position because she was retiring. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to do it or not.”
Pinckney served in the South Carolina General Assembly from 1997 until his death in 2015. The senator was one of 9 African Americans murdered in a racially motivated attack at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
“A lot of politicians that are very hands on they’re not going into the jails, or the schools unless it’s big event and recognition was not he was for,” added Pinckney.
But even in death, Pinckney’s legacy is still inspiring the next generation of leaders.
Rep. Moore is one of those lawmakers. The Charleston County leader has a personal connection with Pinckney. “My sister was ordained a minister the reason. He was in Charleston for that ceremony and my sister asked him to stay for bible study. Clementa remains to be single handedly one of the most important people in my life.”
Pinckney’s impact is present in his daughter, who uses his life and inspiration as a way to lead at a young age.
“I got to see the world in a new lens not the way normal kids get to see it. I was raised in the church, but I was definitely raised with a sense of political awareness,” said Eliana Pinckney.
For more senior change agents like Senator Scott, it’s not about how you get to the State House or where you came from, it’s about leading the state forward and being a representation for black and brown girls and boys in South Carolina.
“South Carolina has a very rich history. a lot of it has not been told. a lot of it is not so great, but it’s up to us now to make it better.”
Sellers elaborated, “You can’t tell a young black child that he can be a doctor if he’s never seen one, you can’t tell a black child that he can be a lawyer if he’s never seen one.”
“You can and you must we need you up here,” ended Rep. Moore.