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.

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Analysts project drop in US cotton crop

Cotton projections took a significant hit over the past couple of weeks, as analysts dropped US crop estimates to 15.8 million bales, from 17 million bales recently forecasted by the US Department of Agriculture.

Speaking July 27 at the Ag Market Network’s annual Cotton Roundtable in New York, forecasters pointed to drought conditions in Texas as a key factor behind the 7 percent drop from USDA projections made on July 11.

Surprisingly, while this year’s Texas crop is still struggling under the grip of an extended drought, it’s doing better than last year’s 3.5 million-bale crop, in which 62 percent of the acreage was abandoned, according to Southeast Farm Press.

Moderate to severe drought conditions have existed for more than a year in Texas, said Carl Anderson, extension specialist emeritus at Texas A&M University.

“During the first half of 2012, rainfall across most cotton areas in Texas totaled less than 2 inches,” he said. “However, there have been some localized rains that benefited both irrigated fields and some dryland areas.”

Texas is the nation leading cotton-growing state.

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Privateers: the role of America’s homespun navy

The typical American’s knowledge of the War of 1812 is limited to the British burning of the White House, Francis Scott Key’s writing of the Star Spangled Banner amid the bombing of Fort McHenry and the United States’ lopsided victory at the Battle of New Orleans.

In reality, the conflict was a complicated matter that dragged on for 2-1/2 years, crippled American trade and led to strong internal divisions within the United States.

One of the key factors in the United States’ ability to hold off the British, the world’s pre-eminent sea power, was the American’s fleet of privateers, ships that were privately owned but authorized to attack enemy shipping.

It’s necessary to remember that by the time war was declared in 1812, the US was still a fledgling nation, less than 30 years from having concluded the Revolutionary War.

“When we declare war on England in 1812, they have 1,048 ships in the British Navy, and we have 17,” author J. Dennis Robinson told New Hampshire Public Radio.

Robinson, author of America’s Privateer: Lynx and the War of 1812, said privateers were the naval version of militias – private citizens called into service during a national emergency.

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Doubt greets report of U-boat in Canadian river

A report that a German World War II submarine has been located at the bottom of a Canadian river, 60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, is being greeted with skepticism.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wrote earlier this week that searchers using sonar believe they had found a submarine in the Churchill River in Labrador, part of the far eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The 150-foot-long object was first spotted two years ago by searchers using sonar in an effort to locate three men who had gone over Muskrat Falls, the CBC reported.

“We were looking for something completely different, not a submarine, not a U-boat – I mean, no one would ever believe that was possible,” Brian Corbin told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “It was a great feeling when we found it.”

A search team plans to revisit the site next week to photograph the object using a remote-control vehicle, according to The National Post.

“Canadian historians and academics that are following the story are anxious to see what comes from the mission,” the publication reported.

“I’m always skeptical. This is only based on a shape in a sonar,” said Mike O’Brien, a history professor at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. “I’m only saying it’s not impossible.”

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Librarian discovers rare index of SC Civil War units

The War Between the States ended nearly 150 years ago, yet primary-source documents connected to the conflict continue to surface, often under the most unusual of circumstances.

Recently, an employee of the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, S.C., was in a storage area of the institution and came across what may well be a one-of-a-kind record: a large ledger detailing muster rolls for hundreds of companies that served as part of South Carolina Civil War regiments.

“I spoke with the state Archives Department and they’ve never seen or heard of anything like this, where all this information is in paginated and typed form,” said  Debbie Bloom, who manages the library’s local history room.

Bloom, who highlighted the find on her The Dead Librarian blog, said she came across the index, called the Confederate Rolls of South Carolina, earlier this year when she saw a large box, approximately 18 inches by 30 inches, lying in a storage area.

Inside was a battered ledger about two inches thick consisting of hundreds of company rolls for South Carolina infantry, cavalry and artillery units that served during the 1861-65 war.

“I have absolutely no idea how long it had been there or where it came from,” she said. “But wherever it came from, it’s a wonderful resource.”

The Richland County Public Library contacted the University of South Carolina and, using USC’s large scanning machines, put the entire resource online. It can be found here.

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A unicorn dies every time the other side wins

The mantra of “My country, right or wrong” has, unfortunately, metastasized into something far more insidious: “My party, right or wrong.”

Along those lines, South Carolina blogger Charlie Speicht Speight, writing at The Garnet Spy, breaks out a host of shopworn bromides which he claims highlights just how far our nation has fallen. The unstated assumption is that this has occurred under the watch of President Barack Obama.

Speicht Speight puts forth a series of amorphous questions which may have few quantifiable answers but serve a larger purpose of getting red meat Republicans worked into a lather as the 2012 presidential election looms.

Consider some excerpts from Speicht’s Speight’s piece, titled “Do You Remember America?

Do you recall that magnificent, unapologetic juggernaut of democracy and freedom?

Do you remember the America that made herself into a mighty power that she used to protect the oppressed elsewhere in the world, asking for little in return?

Do you remember how America created, built, manufactured, invented, assembled, hammered, welded, bought, sold, sailed, flew, plowed, sowed, harvested and shared?

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When survival gets in the way of preservation

The protection of endangered species is a noble and worthwhile goal, but in parts of the world where scratching out a living is the best many individuals can manage, preserving flora and fauna often takes a back seat.

In Madagascar thousands have flocked to the African island nation’s newest national park hoping to strike it rich on a recently discovered seam of sapphires.

The 941,000 acres of virgin rain forest of the Ankeniheny-Zahamena corridor, set aside to protect nation’s famed lemurs and dozens of other rare species, officially became a protected area late last year.

Then in April, sapphires were found, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We had an invasion of illegal miners in this park, which is our most recent protected area,” said Angelo Francois Randriambeloson of Madagascar’s ministry of environment.

The park has 2,043 identified species of plants; 85 percent are found nowhere else in the world. In addition, there are 15 species of lemurs, 30 other mammals, 89 types of birds and 129 kinds of amphibians. And that’s just what’s been discovered so far, according to the wire service.

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Spain recovers priceless 900-year-old tome

A medieval manuscript stolen from a Spanish cathedral a year ago was recovered earlier this month, squirreled away in the garage of a former cathedral employee.

Known as the Codex Calixtinus, the elaborately decorated tome dates back to at least the 12th century and is considered one of Spain’s most valuable cultural artifacts.

The alleged thief, Manuel Fernandez Castineiras, worked at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain for more than a quarter century before being let go last year just prior to the theft. He was arrested along with his wife, his son and his son’s girlfriend, according to The Telegraph.

Castineiras had been suing cathedral authorities for unfair dismissal at the time of the theft on July, 5, 2011, the publication added.

In raids on properties owned by those arrested, police discovered more than 1 million euros in cash, the Codex, and several other ancient books that had also disappeared from the Cathedral archive.

The 225-page Codex Calixtinus, a collection of texts including sermons, homilies to Saint James and practical travel advice, is so named because it was once attributed to Pope Callixtus II.

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English work sets record; sparks family spat

An 1824 work by English painter John Constable sold for $35 million at auction earlier this month, setting a record for the influential artist while also highlighting an ugly family spat.

According to several media reports, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza blamed the decision to sell “The Lock,” a work that had hung in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, founded by the baroness’ late husband, on Spain’s slumping economy.

Apparently oblivious to the benefits of modern public relations, the baroness quipped to a Spanish newspaper, “I need the money – I really need it. I have no liquidity. Keeping the collection here is costly to me, and I get nothing in return.”

The sale drew the ire of the baroness’ family as well as a board member of the museum, who resigned in protest, according to a Reuters report.

A stepdaughter of the baroness was quoted in the British press saying that her stepmother “has shown absolutely no respect for my father and is simply putting her own financial needs above everything else,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

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Storied structure renews role serving state

A beautiful Federal-style brick structure looms up from behind a massive magnolia tree as one zips down South Carolina Highway 56. Even from a distance it’s apparent that this antebellum edifice likely has a storied history.

Called Belfast, it was built around 1785 by Col. John Simpson, a native of Ireland who named the elegant home for his birthplace. Simpson even had the bricks shipped from Ireland, according to the Palmetto Conservation Foundation.

It would become the home for generations of South Carolina political, military and legal luminaries.

The structure remains relatively unchanged from when it was constructed and demonstrates a commitment to both functionality and craftsmanship.

“The original nine-over-nine windows are evenly spaced across the main facade with simple sills and lintels,” according to a Historical and Architectural Survey of Eastern Laurens (SC) County done in 2003. “The double entry door is crowned with a fanlight and stone arch detail.”

Today, Belfast, which includes more than 4,600 acres, is owned by the state, having been purchased by the SC Department of Natural Resources and the state Conservation Fund within the past few years from International Paper, according to the Newberry Observer.

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