Tall, lanky and soft spoken, smiling broadly, the smartly dressed African American, now nearing his 70th year, told his audience that "my soul has grown deep like the rivers" he has known, and that experiences and knowledge must be shared "like ripples on a pond."
Rev. Dr. Preston L. McKever-Floyd talked about his journey, growing up Black in Conway, SC, being one of five African Americans to be the first of his race to graduate from the local high school in 1968 -- after the KuKluxKlan had warned that "blood would run in the streets" if the local schools were desegregated.
The son of Conway's first black policeman, Dr. McKever-Floyd spoke at a Black History Month event sponsored by the county's Democratic Party. He spoke of the challenges faced by America today, despite the advances in race relations that have been made in the 50 years since his graduation, just one month after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
He recalled the history of slavery in South Carolina.
“From the rivers of Africa, the Caribbean, to the low country of South Carolina, Africans came,” he said. “Rice was king, and Africans from the Congo and Gola regions were rice growers, so 80 percent of African slaves were from there because they had the necessary skills.”
So it was not just happenstance that those slaves were brought to South Carolina's low country. Africans with skills in the cultivating and growing of rice, the primary crop in the region, were specifically targeted by local plantation owners.
Dr. McKever-Floyd, the only African American to hold a doctorate in philosophy from the University of South Carolina, is now the retired chair of the Department of Philosophy at Coastal Carolina University (CCU) in Conway.
"We can make a difference," he said. "In the worst conditions, our people have not just survived, they have thrived. One thing to remind our children," he said, "is that the benefits they now take for granted, we didn't have. They need to know why that was so."
"These are the kind of things that continue, like ripples on a pond," he said.
It was remarkable, listening to this soft-spoken, very proud black man, who now works to help educate children in Africa.
It was also remarkable to hear Conway City Councilman Larry A. White paint a portrait of African American life in Conway, where he grew up. He explained how blacks were not allowed to live at the beach, so many moved inland to the community of Conway, now the county seat.
It was also remarkable to hear him explain that blacks were not permitted to try on clothes in Conway's haberdasheries or shoes in the town's shoe stores.
"When you got home, if they didn't fit, they were yours," he said.
Today, White, an African American, is a city councilman in a city where he was once harassed by police simply because of his race.
It is good that such gatherings are held during Black History Month to remind us of the terrible history of our country, especially here in the south, and to help us understand what must never be allowed to happen again.
That's why local party official Cedric Blain-Spain, who organized this Black History Month program, stressed the importance of African Americans registering to vote and voting.
Great strides have been made over the past 50 years, he said. "But now it's happening all over again," he said, referring to many of the actions and policies of the Trump administration.