Civil Rights site recognized, then razed
One week after a ceremony honoring South Carolina civil rights pioneer George Elmore culminated with the erection of a historic marker in front of the downtown Columbia building he once operated, the structure was promptly razed.
Elmore ran the Waverly 5-and-10 cent store, and area mainstay, up until the late 1940s, when he dared to challenge the state’s status quo and put his name on a lawsuit that sought to end South Carolina’s practice of all-white political primaries.
Elmore’s actions led to economic reprisals and financial ruin, according to The State newspaper.
Last Friday, one week after a ceremony attended by city leaders, academics and Elmore’s descendants, the 1935 structure was reduced to a pile of rubble.
The property’s owner, First Nazareth Baptist Church, which sits next door, has not said what it will do with the razed site or why it chose to knock down the historic structure.
Not surprisingly, there is a good bit of unhappiness in area preservation circles.
“There is a beautiful historical marker now standing in front of a pile of rubble,” Robin Waites, executive director of the Historic Columbia Foundation, told The State. “I’m just furious.”
Cresswell Elmore, George Elmore’s son, told the publication he knew the building his father once rented was in bad shape, but he said he had pleaded with the church’s pastor, the Rev. Blakeney Scott, at the marker dedication to hold off on razing the building.
Cresswell Elmore hoped the facade could be incorporated into the church’s plans for the property, according to The State.
“We all spoke to him and we didn’t know he was in a hurry to destroy it,” said Cresswell Elmore, of New Bern, NC. “I was just totally distraught.”
Besides running the Waverly store and several other businesses, Elmore was active in the NAACP, which was working to end segregation and restore civil rights to the state’s African-Americans, including the right to vote.
In 1946, he was approached by the organization to challenge the all-white Democratic primaries that had existed for decades. Democrats, who ran the state’s political machine, claimed the state’s primaries were private clubs, immune from constitutional scrutiny, according to The State.
After attempting unsuccessfully to vote in the August 1946 Democratic primary, Elmore contested the white primary in a lawsuit filed Feb. 21, 1947, by the NAACP on his behalf, Elmore v. Rice.
The following July, US District Judge Waties Waring ruled in Elmore’s favor.
Elmore’s decision proved fateful for his financial and personal well-being, however.
“He lost his home nearby at 907 Tree St. when the bank called in the loan, but not before crosses were burned on the front lawn,” according to The State. “White vendors refused to stock his shelves and his liquor licenses were revoked.”
His wife, Laura, suffered a mental breakdown and was institutionalized. George Elmore died in 1959 at the age of 53.
Last week, just days after Elmore’s courageous stand finally got a bit of long-overdue recognition with the erection of marker noting his fight for justice, the memory of his struggle was promptly buried under a pile of bricks and mortar.
(Residents look for mementoes of George Elmore’s old Waverly 5-and-10 cent store after it was demolished July 27. Photo credit: The State.)