Bob Hudson, President of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce in 1963, Bob Davis, President of the R. L. Ryan Company, and Columbia Mayor, Lester Bates were concerned that Columbia might fall victim to such riots and met to discuss preventative actions. As a result, 100 business and professional leaders were called together to discuss possible solutions. A small subcommittee was appointed to help resolve the problems facing the community. Chair of the committee was W. G. Lyles, Sr., who would later become the first chair of the Community Relations Council.1963
The committee formulated a plan of action and as a first step, the city manager visited Jacksonville, another small group went to Atlanta, with a third group traveling to Augusta. Each group asked city officials what they believed incited the riot in their city and asked for suggestions and precautions to avoid similar occurrences in Columbia.
The answers received all had a central focus. The visiting officials were told it was imperative to seek out the black leadership in Columbia and meet with these individuals for their input. There was doubt in the white leadership of Columbia that black leaders of this caliber exist, but it did not take long to realize it was there. Several black members of the community were contacted and asked to join the committee in its effort. The group was now composed of black and white citizens who were all working together for a common cause, racial harmony, and equality.
As its first major project, the committee tackled the difficult task of removing the “colored” and “white” signs from the water fountains and the restrooms in public buildings such as the Township Auditorium and local service stations. With that task accomplished, the group moved on to its next task, the sensitive issue of segregating lunch counters in Columbia.
During this time black students were marching from Benedict College and Allen University during lunch to stand behind the lunch counter and the result was an antagonistic and potentially explosive situation. A call was made to Columbia High School principal, Roger Kirk, and the doors to the high school were locked during lunch time to help avoid confrontations.
On the day the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went into effect, white and black members of the committee anxiously waited in Mayor Bates office hoping there would be no incidents as the deadline passed. Fortunately, the direct line to the Columbia Police Department remained silent and by 7:15 p.m., everyone went home. Three blacks were served at Woolworth’s and the restaurants had been integrated without incident. The event made three paragraphs on page 6 of The State newspaper.1964
The people who worked behind the scenes in resolving these problems are too numerous to mention, but some of the persons critical to Columbia’s success were William Lyles, Henry and John Cauthen, Lester Bates, Hyman Rubin, Dr. Frank Owens, members of City Council, Rev. J. M. Hinton, Rev. I DeQuincy Newman, Lincoln Jenkins and I. P. Stanback. Accolades are also due to the members of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and businesses that allowed their management to work in an area of such importance to the overall good of the community.
The City of Columbia, Richland County Council and the Columbia Chamber of Commerce formed what is today known as the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council. City and county monies were used to fund the agency with in-kind support being supplied by the Chamber of Commerce. Each of the three funding sources would appoint 10 members to serve on the Council’s board of directors.
The Community Relations Council’s certificate of incorporation was issued in 1965 and stated its purpose as “to aid in maintaining favorable community relations and in providing equal economic opportunities in the Columbia area.”1965
In 1970, the charter’s purpose was amended to include the following: “To study and evaluate information concerning racial problems in the Greater Columbia community and to formulate and submit recommendations as to possible courses of actions and seek equitable resolutions that appear in the best interest of the community as a whole.”1970
Through the years, the Community Relations Council has been instrumental in the resolution of many issues such as the integration of formerly “white only” clubs, the 4-2-1 City Council plan, the formation of the Richland County biracial task force, and a series of town meetings to promote communication between the races.
In addition to its active involvement in community issues, committees composed of volunteers from all sectors of the community address a wide variety of topics around education, governmental affair, and youth issues. The Council also operated two full-time programs in the area of employment and housing. The employment program provided Columbia area residents with assistance in job search skills and placement. The housing program conducts workshops on the topic of first-time homeownership, assists in locating shelter for homeless or displaced individuals and provides information on land/lord/tenant rights.