GREENE COLUMN: Saunders, rights film go together
Tuesday, January 17, 2012A younger Bill Saunders talks about the local civil rights struggle as he drives a 1967 Chrysler convertible along scenic River Road on Johns Island, passing ancient oaks that hug the road too tightly at times.
It's 1985, and the civil rights activist and lifelong island resident is featured in the documentary "You Got to Move -- Stories of Change in the South."
The film, by Lucy Phenix, features Saunders and several others across the country who attended workshops at Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee.
The center empowered, uplifted and inspired ordinary people -- blacks and whites -- to make changes in their communities.
In the film, Saunders, CEO of the Committee on Better Racial Assurance, talks about experiences and anger with police and racial injustices and the stark realities after returning home from the Korean War in 1951. He was awarded a Purple Heart in 2003 for an injury.
He also talks about human and civil rights struggles, including the 1969 hospital workers strike, which he helped organize.
The film has been re-released for its 25th anniversary, with updates from the 76-year-old Saunders, who is being honored for his contributions to local civil rights.
It's a fitting tribute.
Bernice Robinson, a beautician, also was featured. She too attended Highlander.
In 1955, Robinson became the first teacher for the Citizenship School, started by civil rights activist Esau Jenkins to teach African-Americans on the island to read. Many could not read, so were not allowed to vote.
Jenkins also attended the school, as well as a number of other well-known civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Septima Clark.
Saunders, a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor commissioner and former owner of WPAL Radio, helped organize hospital workers seeking better wages and working conditions at the Medical College of South Carolina. That led to the 1969 hospital strike.
The Johns Island Regional Library is showing the film 5:30-8 p.m. Thursday, and Saunders will give the introduction and answer questions afterward.
The College of Charleston also plans a tribute.
On Feb. 2, 4 and 5, the college will hold its screening of the film and a series of events to honor Saunders.
On Feb. 2, the documentary and a reception will be at 5:30 p.m. in the Alumni Center of the Education Building, 86 Wentworth St.
On Feb. 4 , a workshop on efforts to build livable, prosperous and equitable communities will be at 3-5 p.m. at Alumni Center.
On Feb. 5, Saunders will lead a "Living Human Rights History" bus tour from Charleston to Johns Island. He will give information about civil rights and other historical landmarks.
One site will be Esau Jenkins' home, where Martin Luther King stayed on one of several visits to the Lowcountry.
Seats on the bus tour are reserved on a first come, first served basis. RSVP to Jon Hale at 953-6354 by Jan. 23. The film is well worth the effort.