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Scott Stanford: Brotherhood helps us see ‘Boat

The revelation this week that the Rev. Al Sharpton is a descendant from slaves once owned by the family of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, a renowned segregationist, caught my attention.

It would be appropriate irony, not unlike the Rev. Ted Haggard story, if DNA tests reveal Sharpton and Thurmond are, in fact, related.

I grew up in the state that delivered Thurmond to the U.S. Senate for term after term after term. It’s a state that fired the first shots in the Civil War and still flies the confederate flag.



In South Carolina in the 1970s and early 1980s, laws may have changed, but society, like Thurmond, had not.

Sixty percent of my hometown was white; 40 percent was black. Beyond school and work, there was little evidence of integration. Our churches, our neighborhoods, our nightclubs and our social activities remained segregated. For the most part, whites lived north of King Street and blacks lived south of it. My high school had three, all-white sororities whose segregated formal dances were more important to white teens than the integrated prom.



I never saw a Klan rally, but I did see roadside signs advertising them.

When I graduated from high school in 1983, I did not know other places were different from Camden, S.C. But they were, and that’s a good thing.

Camden has grown in the past 24 years. When I go home to visit my family, more neighborhoods are integrated, including the one I grew up in. My nieces and nephews are far more color-blind than my generation. They move comfortably in a much more integrated youth social structure. Progress comes slower than it should, but it comes.

Even Thurmond – who, we learned after his death, fathered a daughter with his family’s black housekeeper – softened as he grew older.

I would not change the experience of growing up where I did. I love my hometown – more than anything else, it shaped my beliefs, my politics and my sense of right and wrong. It shaped my character. I enjoy going back there. I enjoy seeing the changes. I believe the South was a better place when I was growing up than it was when my parents were and that it’s a better place now than when I was young.

If anything, I wish I could give my daughters more of that experience.

So many people say Steamboat is a great place to raise kids. I don’t disagree. But I do worry that being raised in such an exclusively affluent, white community ill prepares them for a world that often is neither.

The U.S. Census says 97.2 percent of our population is white. Fewer than 20 black people call Steamboat home – less than one-tenth of 1 percent of our population. In such an environment, issues of race are, at best, theoretical discussions.

The National Brotherhood of Skiers is in town this week. The group is an association of ski clubs dedicated to the promotion of winter sports among minorities. The group is by and large black, and an estimated 2,000 members are here for the group’s annual summit.

I talked with Andy Wirth, vice president of sales and marketing for Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., about the importance of the Brotherhood. From an economic standpoint, Wirth said Steamboat and other ski resorts would be foolish not to embrace such groups. The baby boomers built the ski industry, but their children, the echo boom, will sustain it. Make no mistake, there is a significant difference between the ethnic makeup of the echoes as compared to the boomers. Ski resorts can’t, as they have in the past, survive on white people alone.

More importantly, Wirth noted the Brotherhood’s mission – to put more youths of color on the U.S. Ski Team – meshes perfectly with Ski Town USA. “This group fits Steamboat,” he said.

I wholeheartedly agree. It has been refreshing to go downtown or to the grocery store or to the mountain and see more diversity than I ever have in six years in Steamboat.

Here’s hoping there’s a day in the future when it doesn’t take a National Brotherhood of Skiers summit to produce such diversity in the ‘Boat. That might be a pipe dream, but I figure if Al Sharpton can be kin to Strom Thurmond, just about anything is possible.

Scott Stanford’s From the Editor column appears Thursdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4221 or e-mail sstanford@steamboatpilot.com.


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