The first African-American to desegregate the University of South Carolina Beaufort more than 50 years ago was honored by the university and the General Assembly of the South Carolina Legislature last week at a commemorative series of events, the “Days of Reflection: 50th Anniversary of the Desegregation of the University of South Carolina Beaufort.”
In ascending the stone steps of the Beaufort College Building on the university’s Historic Beaufort campus last Friday morning, Ms. Jackie Hollins Lee, the daughter of James Henry Hollins, and her aunt, Ms. Nancy Hampton, were walking in the footsteps of Ms. Lee’s late father, the first African-American student admitted to the university.
The two-day series of events included classes and informal meetings with students, faculty, and staff, the Beaufort campus walk, and culminated in a formal public ceremony on the Beaufort campus.
One of Mr. Hollins’ three surviving children, Ms. Lee is Vice President of Information Technology for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She has served the Federal Reserve Bank for more than 30 years.
“It’s been a remarkable two days,” Ms. Lee told the assembled guests.
The Hollins family commitment to education originated with her grandfather, affectionately known as “Big Daddy,” who instilled in his children the importance of education.
“My father was the oldest of 12 children. And all 12 children … were valedictorian of their high school class … My daddy had a vision of better things, and to obtain that vision, he needed to seek higher education. He wanted the best for this family at all costs.”
Among those paying homage to Mr. Hollins and to the peaceful integration process at USCB was Rep.
Kenneth F. Hodges, (D-Colleton), a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives and pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Craven Street.
“I can only imagine what James Hollins envisioned when the invitation was extended to the Marines to apply to enroll at the University of South Carolina Beaufort,” he told more than 100 guests assembled in the USCB Center for the Arts on Carteret Street. “He, along with others, applied, completed the application process and he was admitted.
“James Hollins made up his mind that he would go where none other had gone before. I can only imagine his courage as six Marines walked with him and they were determined to watch his back. And that’s what they did. They walked the halls and they watched James Hollins’ back.
“The unique thing about desegregation, integration in Beaufort, is that it happened so peacefully,” he continued. “I grew up in this area. I grew up on a little, small island called Bennetts Point. And I knew the challenges of that era, in 1963, when it was a different life. I grew up in a community that … the population was less than 70 individuals. And yet, in that small community, there was a time that there were two separate schools.”
Rep. Hodges presented the Hollins family with a framed copy of the Joint Resolution sponsored by Rep. Hodges in the S.C. House of Representatives, with the concurrence of the state Senate, honoring the memory of James Henry Hollins, “who, on Sept. 12, 1963, acted on his personal commitment to open doors to public higher education institutions to all citizens and to enroll as the first African-American student at the University of South Carolina Beaufort.”
A framed proclamation was also presented to Lynn McGee, Ph.D., vice chancellor of Advancement at USCB, honoring the university for its commitment to equality in education.
Ms. Devin Mock, president of the Student Government Association at USCB, hailed the impact of James Hollins decision on her education: “We have been able to have a diverse population now,” she pointed out. “And that may not have been the case without brave people like Mr. Hollins and his commitment to education. So many of the people that were key to my success, both mentors, faculty members, students around me, are all a portion of this diverse population.”
James Hollins did not graduate from USCB. When his tour of duty ended at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, he was assigned to another duty station. He withdrew and went on to obtain a baccalaureate degree at another university. But he always acknowledged that his admission to USCB was a major step in his quest to earn a college degree.
Mr. Hollins devoted 23 years to the U.S. Marine Corps. When he retired, he served as a marketing analyst for the EJ&E Railway in Illinois. When he retired from the railroad, he opened a tax and accounting firm and operated it for 33 years in the Chicago suburb of Joliet. He retired for the last time in 2004 and died on Jan. 5 of this year, with his family by his side.