Player's Benching Sparks Five Months Of Racial Controversy
CONWAY, S.C. - Five months after a high-school football coach replaced a black quarterback with a less-experienced white player, a chain of recriminations has embittered race relations in this small town.
Racial problems generally had stayed hidden in this bucolic town of 14,000 residents. But the largely black protesters say the boycott of the team, picketing of the school and weekly marches that began in August are partly the result of longstanding grievances.
``Conway very definitely has a problem with racism. America has a problem with racism,'' said the Rev. H.H. Singleton, a former science teacher who was fired by the all-white school board after becoming a spokesman for boycotting black players. Conway's population is 41 percent black.
Mayor Ike Long, who is white, said: ``I don't think that Conway had a racial problem as such until this thing came up. I don't know that we have so much of a racial problem now.''
The demonstrations began after Conway High's white football coach, Chuck Jordan, switched quarterback Carlos Hunt, who is black, to defensive back. Jordan replaced Hunt with Mickey Wilson Jr., a less-experienced player and the son of an assistant coach.
Jordan later said he made the change because Hunt refused to follow his instructions on the field.
Hunt wasn't happy with the switch, and neither were many of his teammates. On Aug. 22, Singleton announced that 31 of the 37 black players were boycotting the team to protest the quarterback change. All but 10 of the striking players stayed out the entire season and the team ended up with a 1-11 record.
Less than a week after the walkout began, the parents of 61 white students enrolled in Singleton's science class at Conway Middle School requested their children be assigned another teacher. The following day, Horry County School Superintendent John Dawsey suspended Singleton on the grounds he was disrupting school. The school board fired Singleton, who also is pastor of Cherry Hill Baptist Church, three months later.
What followed were protest
marches through town that drew hundreds of marchers on several Saturdays; regular picketing outside the high school; a two-day boycott of classes by black students; and a promise by the NAACP to stage a political and economic boycott in Horry County.
An investigation by state Human Affairs Commissioner James Clyburn determined the Hunt incident was not racially motivated. Long appointed a biracial task force to study the issue.
In general, Clyburn's findings were supported by the white community and decried by blacks.
Leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People say they will continue their protest until Singleton is reinstated in his teaching job, and will press for other changes. For one thing, they want a change in hiring practices for schools in the town, which is 15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach.
On Saturday, 1,000 people turned out for a protest march in Myrtle Beach.
``It's a process that has to evolve,'' said Dr. William Gibson, a Greenville dentist and chairman of the NAACP national board of directors. ``Horry County is moving in that direction, but it hasn't arrived yet. We're going to march in Conway a long time, a lot of times.''
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