Old Town Rock Hill, South Carolina
CIVIL & HUMAN RIGHTS
Cecil Ivory, a native of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, came to the Carolinas in the 1940s to attend Johnson C. Smith University, which instilled within its students a sense of social and moral responsibility. After graduation, he attended seminary and eventually became the pastor of Rock Hill’s Hermon Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest African American churches in this area.
Through his ministry, Reverend Ivory demonstrated a form of the social gospel that led him to address injustices in society. He became the leader of Rock Hill’s local NAACP chapter at a critical time in the nation’s history, and followed the goals, mission, and prime directive of the national organization. His actions began the process of institutional desegregation, even before the enactments of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964, 1965, and 1968. Reverend Ivory was dedicated to the full enforcement of the US Constitution, especially the 1st, 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, as well as the dismantling of segregation and the eradication of the unconstitutional Jim Crow laws.
The spark that truly initiated Rock Hill’s movement for social change was the City’s 1957 bus boycott, which in turn created conditions favorable for the emergence of the sit-in movement. Reverend Ivory led by example, and his leadership during this time proved that he was a role model for his community. He organized community meetings and was arrested more than once for attempting to sit-in at downtown lunch counters. The protests by Reverend Ivory, Friendship Jr. College activists and others were noticed and supported by some of the leading national figures in the civil rights movement at that time, including Thurgood Marshall, Ella Baker and James Farmer.
During Reverend Ivory’s time in Rock Hill, the region was still deeply steeped in the social mores and cultural traditions of slavery and segregation. African Americans were politically disenfranchised; racially segregated; devoid of basic human, civil and political rights; and viewed as inferior. The task of changing the minds, hearts, and souls of individuals, and deconstructing and restructuring the institutions of this community demanded total commitment, enormous energy, courage, patience, intelligence, and moral and spiritual resolve on his part. He often received death threats, as reported by his wife, the late Emily Ivory (d. 2008), and with the intent of protecting his wife and three young children, he slept with a pistol on the nightstand by his bed. He was determined to change the status quo, and continued his leadership in this movement until his untimely death at 40 years of age in 1961.
Lest we forget, this great man was confined to a wheel chair, but he overcame an extraordinary disability to leave an exemplary legacy.