Cecil Williams made a name for himself photographing some of the most pivotal moments of the Civil Rights movement that occurred in South Carolina. Now, any who wish to see his work can do so at the Aiken County Historical Museum.
"Unforgettable: Celebrating a Time of Life, Hope and Bravery" is a traveling exhibit sponsored by the South Carolina State Library that will open to the public in Aiken on Tuesday, July 23. The exhibit contains a series of black and white photographs taken by Williams that largely pertain to the Civil Rights movement in South Carolina.
"One of the nice things about being able to be in this kind of situation is that, not only can everyone in the community come and visit, but we're going to try to encourage the local organizations to partner with K-12 schools so that students can come in and learn about the exhibit," said Dr. Curtis Rogers, communications director of S.C. State Library.
The exhibit contains 40 photographs taken by Williams throughout the '50s, '60s and '70s. It contains samples from Williams' photo book, "Unforgettable."
"There's a lot of photos where people still, to this day, are unidentified," Rogers said. "So what we hope is people will come in and maybe see someone that they know and are able to identify."
Williams began taking photos when he was just 9 years old. His professional photography career began when he turned 15. During the Civil Rights movement, he photographed protests and sit-ins at racially segregated businesses.
He was on campus at South Carolina State University taking photographs when the Orangeburg Massacre occurred, during which highway patrolmen opened fire on a crowd of 200 unarmed African American student protestors.
In addition to being a professional photographer, Williams is also a publisher, inventor, author and architect.
The exhibit came to Aiken due to the efforts of local photographer and historian Allen Riddick, who was searching for a guest speaker for the Aiken County Historical Society's upcoming meeting in September.
"I made a phone call," Riddick said. "And he said he would come to Aiken."
Riddick then got into contact with Ashley Till, statewide services manager of the S.C. State Library. Till not only had connections to the traveling exhibit but to Williams himself.
Like Williams, Till was born and raised in Orangeburg. She said that, when the exhibit leaves the museum, it will go next to USC Aiken in October, and Williams will speak with photography students at the university.
"You're not too young to ever learn about Civil Rights," Till said. "It's essential that South Carolina knows its past, and a lot of it has been unrecognized ... So we really want kids to get engaged and know their history."
Williams will be speaking and doing a book signing at the AECOM Center for Performing Arts at 106 Newberry St. for the Aiken County Historical Society's fall meeting on Sept. 22 at 3 p.m.
Although the exhibit opens July 23, there will be a public opening reception for the exhibit on Friday, Aug. 2 from 6-8 p.m. at the Aiken County Historical Museum.
In partnership with the exhibit, the Center for African American History, Art and Culture will be hosting two family-friendly programs along with a temporary exhibit on the Civil Rights movement in Aiken County.
The first program will be held on Saturday, Aug. 3 at 2 p.m. Children will create a photographic collage that reflects the exhibit’s focus on “life, hope and bravery.”
The second program will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 2 p.m. and it will feature an art project that focuses local sites with African American history.
Both programs are free and open to the public. Large groups intending to participate should register by calling the Center for African American History, Art and Culture at 803-226-0269.
CAAHAC is located at 120 York Street NE in downtown Aiken.
The traveling exhibit is made possible with LSTA funds provided by the Institute of Museum and Library Services IMLS and administered by the SCSL, and through the generosity of Cecil Williams.
There is no charge to visit the Aiken County Historical Museum. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m.
For more information, call the Aiken County Historical Museum at 803-642-2015.