By TIM BULLARD
LAKE CITY — An ecumenical group will continue to bring residents of Lake City together despite the passing of the man responsible for organizing a series of weekly gatherings for racial unity.
Mayor Wilford Barr, 49, recently passed away, but the effort he began will continue to promote dialogue and fellowship through the workshop series.
Sherman Gaskins, president of the Pastoral Council at St. Philip’s Church in Lake City, coordinates religious education and the unity meetings which were recently held at the parish. The topic on Aug. 20 was “One Human Family,” and the theme for the Aug. 27 gathering was “Equality.”
“We’ve had participation from the Baptist community and the Bahai faith and United Methodists, and it was started off by the mayor,” said Gaskins Aug. 30. “….We were beginning to break a barrier within the black community because most black people don’t believe a black person can lead. And that’s a handicap. … I think he (Barr) was a gentle person. He had a lot of foresight. The thing about foresight is that it always takes a long time for you to reap the benefits of it. I think that this community is just beginning to reap the benefits of his efforts,” Gaskins said.
The mayor’s death came as a shock to Gaskins and others in the community. Barr, 49, initiated the group’s creation, according to Gaskins.
“We are looking at the false barriers that we face in different races and why there is racism within a race,” Gaskins said. “We are looking at a dialogue and how to talk and understand each other’s hardships and reaching out.”
The city has had friction, both political and racial. One racial incident involving racial epithets was recently reported in the S.C. Press Association newsletter.
“That is one of the things that I look at where there is hatred in the same groups,” Gaskins said. “Being black, there is racism within the black groups. There is racism in white groups. They don’t know exactly who did that, to my knowledge.”
The racial epithets were on a flyer found in town, referring to a black reporter at the Lake City newspaper.
“… It’s a vast area to reconcile when you get to a community of people that need to identify who they are, where they come from and where they are going,” Gaskins said. “I think what we are trying to accomplish with these meetings is to try to identify or at least get a person to get a feel of where they came from and who they are and get an identification on who they are.”
Why did Barr call for the racial unity meetings?
“There was a lot of dissension in the city because of … the council being all black,” Gaskins explained “… The mayor was black. Even the pro-tem mayor is black.”
Gaskins feels Barr’s work to create racial unity will be his legacy.
“With these meetings,” he said, “it gives you some motives, why is this? And it gives us something to work with.”
Gaskins said economic hardships and the lack of well-paying jobs have an effect on residents, suggesting the creation of enterprise zones to create jobs for the economically oppressed.
“… There is a backlash. That backlash is unemployment,” Gaskins said. “… I see it happening periodically, people knocking on the door, helping people with food. That might feed them today and tomorrow, but what is the guy going to do three days from now? He might get a little work. It’s just a vicious circle we are in.”