Motels with fading shingle roofs. Tire shops with graffitied signs. Pawn stores and auto title loan lenders only outnumbered by churches. A mobile home park and a mobile home supply shop.
These are common hallmarks of poverty in rural America. There is no inherent shame in them.
However, things don’t have to be this way.
The small city within a large swath of rural South Carolina somehow is home to not one, but two, HBCUs: Claflin University and South Carolina State University.
Those two universities present tremendous opportunities for the surrounding community: President Joe Biden visited Orangeburg just last month to deliver the commencement speech at South Carolina State, which is also Rep. Jim Clyburn’s alma mater.
South Carolina State has an elementary school on campus that serves the community, and a lot of education majors serve as teachers to them. The students at both HBCUs emphasize volunteering, with everything from the boys and girls club to charity walks.
“Orangeburg is a very rural community, and the institutions provide a lot of jobs,” says Denise Smith, a higher education senior fellow at the progressive think tank Century Foundation.
Yet despite those opportunities, the city has long let the area around its universities have the curb appeal of a busted lip.
The problems of that malaise became clearer recently when students were asked to chime in on a city proposal to finally redevelop Railroad Corner, a currently dilapidated junction within walking distances of both HBCU campuses.
Students describe a city with little options off campus. “We don’t even have a movie theater or anything,” one senior told The Times and Democrat
— another student listed “Cook-Out” as their main off-campus hangout. That was true for Smith as well, when she was a student at South Carolina State from 2004 to 2008.
Students looking for entertainment must drive about an hour either north to Columbia or east to Charleston. Which might leave cash-strapped students having to book pricey hotels … or potentially risk a DUI after a night out.
With the Railroad Corner redevelopment, Orangeburg hopes to enhance walkability and build mixed-use developments that attract students from the universities, serving as “a gateway to downtown
It’s a promising sign for town-gown relations that the city’s first public input session was held in the Claflin University Dining Hall. “The city is starting to see the contributions the institutions are making,” Smith said.
But the fact that conditions near the city’s two HBCUs have been allowed to linger for so long warrants further questions about relationships between majority-Black institutions and the rural towns many of them occupy.
That’s especially true here, at the site of the 1968 Orangeburg massacre, where South Carolina Highway Patrol officers shot and killed three people while firing into a crowd of protestors on the South Carolina State campus — an incident that began with a small group of Black students trying to bowl at a local alley.
02: Roadside Attractions
The Day the Music Died. Rows of Steinway pianos waiting to be hauled off from Lock Haven University inspired a eulogy from graduates of the music program which, just over a decade ago, seemed poised to thrive at the rural Pennsylvania school — inspiring a reflection on what choices states owe to their rural students compared to their urban peers.
Nursing the Rural Healthcare Shortage. Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation to allow state community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees in nursing, as the Wolverine State looks to staff rural hospitals and increase its percentage of BSN numbers from 46.5% in 2020 to at least 80% in coming years.
Are Federal GEAR UP cuts mistaken? Maine’s congressional delegation sent a letter to the Department of Education, accusing it of neglecting its statutory responsibilities in cutting the program in Maine and six other states that provided college counseling and college exploration for thousands of rural students.