Bud Ferillo is Communications Specialist for the Children’s Law Center, a component of the USC Law School, and continues his private public relations practice. With a distinguished, life-long career as a human rights activist, Ferillo has served as chief of staff to two Speakers of the S.C. House of Representatives and as Deputy Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina. His award-winning documentary, Corridor of Shame: The Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools, has helped to define issues of school funding not only in South Carolina but throughout the nation. In addition, Ferillo assembled the traveling exhibition, But What About Us?: Student Photographs from the Corridor of Shame, that continues to be displayed across South Carolina.
The award read:
The University of South Carolina Museum of Education
Chester C. Travelstead Award for Courage in Education
presented to Charles T. Ferillo, Jr.
in recognition of his leadership in South Carolina to further the values of integrity, intellectual spirit, justice, and stewardship and, in so doing, allowing schools to become more compassionate, more generous, more humane, and more thoughtful.
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived,
but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” Maya Angelou
Acceptance Presentation By Bud Ferillo
Thank you, Mr. President, Craig Kridel, and the Museum of Education for this extraordinary honor. Thank you, Jim Clyburn for coming from Washington to be here today.
Forty three years ago, Jim, you took me to lunch after I had just returned from Vietnam and asked me to join you (as your campaign manager) to begin your career in public life. I told you then that I knew as a white man that I could never walk in your shoes, but I promised you that I would always be by your side. Thank you for being by my side today.
I would like nothing better than to recognize each of you who have graced my life and contributed to my work. But we are on a strict time schedule and we need to get right to work. But from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here and sharing the causes I have proudly embraced, especially those of you who have traveled so far to join us today.
Seeing you all here right now, I am looking for the candles and smelling the incense and holy oils that accompany a Catholic funeral. If this is not my day to move on, I invite each of you right now to that inevitable ceremony because you are obviously among my most treasured peeps.
Despite my extensive activism on this campus starting in 1964, I had not heard of Chester Travelstead until I read his obituary in The State newspaper in 2007, which carried the story of his dismissal for daring to suggest, ever so mildly, that the Brown decision be complied with immediately in South Carolina. The obit included the charming welcome he received from the President of the University of New Mexico who, as you have heard, said that being fired by the University of South Carolina over his comments on desegregation was grounds for Dean Travelstead’s immediate hiring at New Mexico. I thought at the time that this was the cutest obituary I had ever read.
If you think things rarely change for the better in South Carolina, witness today’s ceremony: the University of South Carolina no longer punishes its dissenters, it actually honors them.
To join the ranks of Travelstead Award recipients Matthew Perry and Cleveland Sellers is a gift beyond imagination. Seeing this University shine as a beacon of academic freedom, civil discourse and social justice in 2012, and heightened by the encouragement of the free and vigorous expression of ideas on this campus and across the state of President Pastides since the very beginning of his administration, is a source of pride for every South Carolinian. Thank you, Mr. President and today’s Board of Trustees for assuring an environment that preserves and protects freedom of speech as a fundamental rule of law.
Those of us old enough to remember the events and emotions of 1954 and 1955, recall that those were very tough times throughout the southern states. What happened to Dean Travelstead was not at all unusual treatment for those who spoke up for racial justice.
I can tell you the Brown decision hit Charleston when I was nine years old like a nuclear explosion.
The point size on the front page of the News and Courier and the Charleston Evening Post used to report the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court had not been seen since the end of the Second World War. No one, white or black, could believe that the truly remarkable dissent of Federal Judge Waites Waring in Briggs v. Elliott could have possibly been adopted as the core of the new law of the land.
After all, Rev. Delaine’s church in Clarendon County had been burned to the ground and he had fled the state to avoid assassination. Charleston had run Judge Waring out of town after his unbelievable dissent in the Briggs case. Legislation had been introduced in the General Assembly authorizing him a one way ticket out of South Carolina to the destination of his choice.
Wasn’t banishment of those troublemakers and dissenters supposed to have solved the problem? And surely all that money to build new schools for African American students prior to the decision was proof positive that the state’s public schools could indeed be separate and equal.
We spread some money around, better late than never, and we ran off the disturbers of the peace. Surely the walls of racial segregation could hold as firmly as they had since installed after Reconstruction.
You see this 10th generation Charlestonian acknowledges that some of the most deplorable ideas and actions in American history which continue to color life in our state to this day came out of the city of my birth:
the importation of more slaves than through any other port to support the enrichment of the few through the labor of the many; the doctrines of nullification and states rights over national sovereignty;
Secession from the very nation whose independence had largely been won on the bloody battlefields of South Carolina less than a century before; firing on American soldiers at Fort Sumter flying the broad stripes and bright stars of Old Glory to begin a war that would claim 680,000 lives, including one of every fifth male South Carolinian; bitter resistance to the earnest and noblest unification efforts of the Reconstruction era after all was lost; the replacement of human bondage with legal subjugation in the Jim Crow era; and the embracing of Pitchfork Ben Tillman’s successful abolition of legal rights, property rights, voting rights, and eliminating the Reconstruction Constitution’s noble pledge to educate “all the children of all the people” in establishing South Carolina very first public education system.
Tillman’s 1895 constitution totally shredded that bright promise.
And resisting the prompt implementation of the Brown decision, as Chester Travelstead urged in 1955, for another decade, spending millions of tax dollars, until as Governor Hollings conceded in 1963 that “we have run out of courts” and finally admitted Harvey Gantt into Clemson University, followed the next year by the entry of three African American students into USC.
Indeed, the State’s lawyers last week in rehearing the Abbeville v. State of South Carolina school funding case defended the indefensible inequities of “a minimally adequate education” in largely minority districts once again. Even today, official South Carolina still stands on the wrong side of history. All of this bad history is why we have a Corridor of Shame in South Carolina today.
You can all take a deep breath and relax now. That was my Travelstead moment.
When I was five years old, a friend and I crawled under a car in the garage of the apartment building we lived in on John Street and lit a fire with newspapers. It was a cold day and we had no idea that we could have been killed if the flames hit the gas tank. Fortunately, the building superintendent caught us, put the fire out and reported us to our parents. My father loved to tell this story about me: when he got home and learned of the incident, he asked me what happened. I answered: “A match was struck.” And as he said many times later: “Here was my son, at the age of five, speaking to me in the pluperfect subjunctive tense. I knew right then he was headed for a career in law or politics.”
My life’s work, in state government from 1973 to 1986 at the side of progressive legislators and progressive Governors, Jim Edwards, a Republican and Dick Riley, a Democrat, and my work as a private citizen and education advocate, has been to shape a vastly different future for “all the children of all the people.” And it continues for me today at the Children’s Law Center here at USC. In a way, I have been striking matches of one kind or another all my life.
If my earlier remarks or my 57 minute documentary on the Abbeville case made you uncomfortable, you have gotten the point and felt the heat. If you hope for a just decision in the Abbeville case, you have seen the light. If you are in for the long haul to turn around South Carolina’s public education system, you are among friends in this Law School on this beautiful day.
In this audience are some of the real heroes who had the courage to challenge their own state leaders, and their lawyers who have argued their cause pro bono publico with earnest conviction for 19 years. I am deeply touched by their presence here today.
Although the oldest school in South Carolina, J. V. Martin Middle School dating to 1896 in Dillon, was replaced last month, it took the voters of that county in a 2007 referendum to add a penny sales tax to their existing tax burden - and a special friend in the White House who provided the financing to make it so - but not one dollar was contributed by the State of South Carolina.
While I love my native state as much as anyone, I know in my heart that she was born in the original sin of human bondage and we are stained with it to this day. To me, that is the long and the short of it. U. S. Senator James Louis Petigru was right when he heard the church bells of Charleston announcing the state had seceded from the Union and said “We are too small to be a separate nation and too large to be an insane asylum.”
It is long past time, for South Carolina to let go of its crippling past, which the world knows all too well, and embrace a more enlightened and hopeful future. After all, our state motto is “While I breathe, I hope.” We should start breathing the fresh air of inclusion, of racial reconciliation, of honest dialog and mutual problem-solving before other generations of children in our rural schools are lost. That’s my hope. That’s my hope.
Hope. It is all about hope.
Hope is the most potent, unyielding emotion. Love fluctuates. Anger fades. Even faith tests us and abandons us from time to time. Hope can’t do that. If you have a glimmer of hope, you have all you need.
Anyone who imagines something better for just an instant has a kind of hope. A break in the heat. A kiss goodnight. The sound of the front door opening when your child has been out late. Hope … when the doctor says the test results are good and the tumor is not malignant, the yellow ribbon on the tree in the front yard that cries out for the safe return of a loved one in harm’s way.
Hope is getting a high school diploma, a letter of acceptance from college – maybe the first in your family to get one – the call to come back for a second interview for a first job.
Hope runs on our species’ unique ability to create something that wasn’t there before. That’s why its power is unassailable.
Hope is an engine room, a kind of food bank, an eternal flame. To have it, you don’t need anything besides yourself and one enduring idea. We ought to bask every day in South Carolina in our capacity to feel that about our future.
Feeling hope doesn’t always call us to action but it the only thing we need to begin to change from who we have been to who we must become.
And the moment we feel it, everything is changed. That makes hope a source of nearly infinite power. Hope is not weak; it is so very strong.
Hope is the roadside vagabond with a glint of armor and the sword of justice under his coat. Hope is never running out of matches to light the fires of social justice and educational excellence.
Hope is a South Carolina where all of us turn away from a difficult past, begin the process of forgiveness we have avoided for so long and embrace a future of mutual respect and reconciliation, a movement that can yield a second, final, successful Reconstruction.
And yes, hope is that little girl you’ve heard tell about who went to a crumbling school in Dillon and wrote so powerfully and simply that she just wants the opportunity “to grow up and be a doctor, or a lawyer or President of the United States.”
Hope is believing in the day when every school in South Carolina is a launching pad of 21st century of learning, learning with no limits, a source of enlightenment and engagement for every community, the production line of this state’s workforce and never again the basis of national shame.
Finally, hope is the thing we should stop saying we breathe and start holding it out, holding it high and living it, for all the world to see from little South Carolina: that we have finally risen from the divisions of the past, that we have rejected the low aim of a minimally adequate education and embraced the blessings and opportunity at last, at last, at last for “all the children of all the people” from the mountains to the sea.
As I accept with humility this very special award, I want to leave you with the lyrics that Ken Burns used as the musical thread that tied together his seven part documentary on the Second World War. It is called American Anthem and it was sung for Burns by Norah Jones. No, I am not going to sing it for you but I want you to hear its message.
“All we’ve been given
By those who came before
The dream of a nation
Where freedom would endure
The work and prayers of centuries
Have brought us to this day.
What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?
Each generation from the plains
To distant shore with the gifts
They were given
Were determined to leave more.
Valiant battles fought together,
Acts of conscience fought alone,
These are the seeds from which America has grown.
For those who think they have nothing to share
Who fear in their heart there is no hero here
Know each quiet act of dignity
Is that which fortifies
The soul of a nation that never dies.
What shall be our legacy?
What will our children say?
Let them say of me
I was one who believed
In sharing the blessings I received
Let me know in my heart
When my days are through
I gave my best to you.”