As a longtime civil rights activist, James Gallman knows that Aiken isn’t always the idyllic community depicted in the glossy photos of Southern Living magazine and other publications.
Even though the live oaks are majestic and the flowers of Hopelands Gardens are beautiful, the Best Small Town in the South isn’t perfect.
And Gallman, an African-American, is familiar with some of its problems.
His love for Aiken, however, remains strong.
“I am so proud of where I live,” said the 77-year-old retired educator. “I know that there are still some issues that we are having to deal with, but for the most part, we live in a city where people are given a chance to be whatever they want to be, to grow and to achieve.
"We are unfortunate only in the sense that there are still a few small-minded people who don’t want to accept that no matter what your race, you can do a good job and be paid for doing that good job.”
Born and raised in Aiken, Gallman was the youngest of five children. His parents worked for the town’s wealthy Winter Colony residents.
His father was a caretaker at the Rye Patch estate, and his mother ironed and cleaned houses.
Back then, “black people were expected to stay in their place,” Gallman said. “We knew there were places we could not go and things that we could not do. The swimming pool for whites was right there in front of Warneke Cleaners (on Newberry Street), and we did not even go over and look at the white children swimming. When we went to the movies at the Patricia Theater, we knew we were going to have to go upstairs to the buzzards’ roost to watch the movies.”
Late in the summer, Gallman would pick cotton to earn money to buy the new clothes he needed for school.
“I thought Aiken was a good place to grow up because of the childhood friends that I had,” he said. “We got a very good education at Martha Schofield High School.”
Following graduation, Gallman attended Claflin College in Orangeburg. He studied mathematics while making plans to pursue a career in education.
“There were a couple of teachers at Schofield at the time that I admired, so I just felt like it (teaching) was something that I could do,” Gallman said.
While at Claflin, he became active in the civil rights movement.
In March 1960, Gallman was among more than 1,000 students from Claflin and South Carolina State College who participated in a protest in Orangeburg.
“On the street that I was on, we were met by policemen and firemen, and there were fire hoses,” Gallman said. “It was a little chilly, and I got soaking wet. On one or two other streets, there were dogs and tear gas.”
Gallman was among the nearly 400 students who were arrested. Afterward he joined the NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization.
“Through my college days, I stayed a member,” Gallman said. “When I finished at Claflin in 1963, I came home to Aiken to get a job and start a family. I rarely participated in anything that the NAACP was doing.”
To begin with, Gallman was a mathematics teacher at Jefferson High School in southwest Aiken County. He later worked at Langley-Bath-Clearwater High School and earned a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Tennessee as a summer student.
“I thought I was helping young people appreciate the beauty of mathematics and all that,” he said. “It was an enjoyable time for me, so I stayed in education.”
Gallman’s move from Jefferson to Langley-Bath-Clearwater, where he also was a coach, coincided with the integration of Aiken County’s school system.
For the most part, it was a smooth transition, Gallman remembered.
“In Aiken at the time, we had some good black and white administrators as well as several pastors from the black community who got involved,” he said. “They made sure that the children acted appropriately, and they made us realize that we had to be at our best and not allow anybody to get us to think that integration was going to cause a bunch of problems.”
In the mid-1970s, Gallman became an administrator and worked in a variety of positions that included serving as the principal of New Ellenton Junior High School and later Langley-Bath-Clearwater Middle School.
From 1989 until his retirement from the local school district in 1996, Gallman was an assistant superintendent.
He then took charge of the Aiken-Barnwell Regional Head Start program and remained its director for seven years.
As for Gallman’s association with the NAACP, he didn’t become seriously involved in the organization again until around 1985, when the Aiken Branch’s leader urged him to attend meetings regularly and think about serving as an officer.
From 1988 to 1997, Gallman was the president of the Aiken Branch, which expanded and became the Aiken County Branch in 2013.
Then, for six years, he was the president of the NAACP’s South Carolina State Conference.
Currently, Gallman is a member of the NAACP’s national board of directors and has more than a decade of experience in that position under his belt.
“It has been very interesting work for me,” he said. “Our main goal is to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, and I’ve met some very good people who want to do the same thing. For me and most of the people I know in the NAACP, it’s never been about getting anything more for African-Americans than anybody else would get. It’s about equal treatment for everyone.”
On the national level, Gallman has gotten to know civil rights leaders such as Julian Bond, Roslyn Brock, Al Sharpton, Maryland Congressman Kweisi Mfume and the Rev. William Barber.
At the state level, one civil rights effort that stands out in Gallman’s mind is the years of protests, negotiations and discussions of various alternatives that finally resulted in the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse’s grounds in 2015.
Gallman and his wife, Betty, were in Columbia for that historic event.
“I was proud of the legislators who finally decided to do the right thing, and I wanted to be there to see it come down,” Gallman said. “I wanted to be able to say, ‘We can now look at this from the standpoint that we are all South Carolinians under one flag that represents the United States and one flag that represents South Carolina. Nobody is remembering the Confederacy in South Carolina. Now it is gone.’”
At the local level, one notable memory in civil rights history for Gallman is when he and other representatives of the NAACP challenged owner Bruce Salter’s policy of not serving African-Americans in a North Augusta restaurant and bar called the Buffalo Room.
“As we walked up, the gentleman, Mr. Salters, came running to the door and told us to leave him alone,” Gallman remembered. “He said he wasn’t bothering us, so he wanted to know why we were bothering him. He told us to get off of his property and what he would do to us if we didn’t.”
The 1989 incident made national news, and legal action followed.
Today, Gallman is the assistant treasurer for the NAACP’s Aiken County Branch. He also is the chairman of the Aiken/Barnwell Counties Community Action Agency’s board of directors and chairman of the City of Aiken Housing Authority’s board of commissioners.
Eugene White has been the president of the NAACP’s Aiken Branch since 2016, and he believes Gallman has been and continues to a valuable asset to the group.
“Being a new NAACP president was a very difficult and daunting task,” White said. “But having someone like James Gallman, who has done everything in the organization while being a champion in the community, helped me tremendously. It’s been an honor to have him as a friend, a mentor and a trusted ear as I try to take our branch to new heights. He is a very important resource for our branch.”