Their books touch on the same subjects, yet each is completely unique. Their lives span nearly the same decades, in the same part of the world, yet their experiences are very different. Each one recounts stories, from personal experiences, of how South Carolina progressed during the civil rights movement. And each brings to life the history of South Carolina’s people by offering a unique glimpse of life “back in the day.”
Both newly published works, “Grandfather Tales and Other Stories of Small Town Life,” by Hal Duvall, and “Civil Rights in South Carolina from Peaceful Protests to Groundbreaking Rulings,” by James L. Felder, are great for summer reading and are available for purchase.
Duvall is a Cheraw native, retired merchant, Citadel graduate and served two years in the military during the Korean Conflict. Felder, originally from Sumter, lived in Washington, D.C., in his early adult years, but has lived in Columbia since 1967. He graduated from Clark Atlanta University and Howard University School of Law, and earned a Master of Laws from the Atlanta Law School.
This is Duvall’s third book; preceded by “Juniper Road” and “The Vote.” His first novel is comprised of fictitious characters, “but the conditions of the world are true and relative” to the time frame of the 1930’s, said Duvall. His second publication, “The Vote,” takes the same cast of characters, a few decades later, and places them in the midst of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
As a significant figure in Cheraw’s social and political history, the late Levi Byrd is subject matter for both authors. Byrd is used to model a character in Duvall’s second book and is included for his role in organizing the South Carolina chapter of the NAACP in Felder’s account of the state’s history.
But Duvall’s latest publication, “Grandfather Tales,” is comparable to fanning yourself on the front bench at the general store in summer, or sitting by the stove-pipe heater in winter, just to hear the stories the old folks will tell. Some of the tales are from stories his grandfather told, or even wrote to him from Florida vacations.
Duvall still has one of the letters from his grandfather, hand written in pencil on hotel stationery from the Island Inn of Sanibel Island, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico, Jan. 12, 1937, that offers tall fishing tales. Some of these stories include language such as: “I want to tell you about the nicest fish I lost today, and how I lost him… It was just your size and had ears like yours.”
That same fish, a year later, was then the subject of another tale. Taken from page 25, in part, the story goes: “When I looked up to ascertain the cause of all the alarm I saw a monster fish approaching the boat at lightning speed. The danger was terrible, but I decided to face it coolly, and raised my hand to continue smoking, when I found I had swallowed my cigar. I smoothed my hair, stuck out my chest, and faced the danger like a man. I suddenly smelled an odor that I first thought was my cigar, burning up my insides, but was relieved to find that it was caused by the large fish putting on brakes too fast as he approached our boat, scorching the water around him.”
Other stories included in the book were told to him by customers at the hardware store his family owned and operated, or simply handed down by friends and family. Several chapters of “Grandfather Tales” is devoted to the late Professor McCown, the high school principal, who often helped with books and other supplies for the local black schools. “Fessor,” as he was called, was also known to visit student’s homes to keep them from playing hooky.
Duvall tells this story on page 75 of his new book: “Prior to the 1950s the state provided very little in the way of books and teaching aids for the black schools. Fessor understood that they were deprived because he and the local black educators met regularly to discuss mutual problems. Fessor gave or loaned books and other materials to the black schools from any excess or surplus he could find. This was greatly appreciated by the black teachers, and they invited Fessor to speak to their upper classes on the subject of ‘Leadership.’ Introducing him, the black principal told of Fessor’s credentials and his history of being helpful to the black schools. ‘His face may be white,’ he said, ‘but his heart is just as black as yours!’”
Felder was in Cheraw last Saturday for a book signing of his newest release, “Civil Rights in South Carolina.” In this book, he not only talks of South Carolina’s role as one of the leaders in the move toward equal rights, he talks about three people from Cheraw who made a real difference in this national movement. Levi Byrd, Bernice Robinson and A.W. Wright, all from Cheraw, held the top three positions of the newly formed South Carolina Chapter of the NAACP when it was organized in 1939, said Felder.
Felder participated in many of the events that shaped history, including the signing of the original document “An Appeal for Human Rights” in the early 1960s. While serving in the military, 1962-64, Felder was chosen to guard the body of slain President John F. Kennedy from the moment it arrived in Washington, until the funeral was over four days later.
“I was getting ready to go home for Thanksgiving in Sumter with my wife and six-month-old baby when I got the call,” said Felder, informing him the president’s body would be his responsibility. Felder has written a book about that experience as well. The cover of that book, “I Buried John F. Kennedy,” features a photograph of Felder carrying the draped casket during the funeral procession.
At the book signing, here in Cheraw, one of the guests asked Felder why the cover of the book about burying the president was pink rather than red or something bolder. His reply, “That was the shade of pink that Ms. Jackie wore that day.”
Because both Felder and Duvall lived through this era of social turmoil and transition, their stories are personal and resonate with character. If you were born and raised in Chesterfield County or anywhere in South Carolina, who knows, maybe there’s a story or two among the pages of these books about a character from your family tree.
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.