A Legacy of Serving and Loving Others
February is African American History month. African Americans have enriched the lives of all Americans past and present. As a former History teacher, I always loved teaching Social Studies. I have always felt that the history of the United States, is indeed, the history of everyone. While teaching about civil rights and some parts of history, fourth and fifth graders sometimes have difficulty connecting with different parts of history. I will never forget when a young student brought me a wonderful letter written by her grandfather, telling about his struggles during the civil rights movement. His letter enabled students to see that the fight for equal rights for everyone affected someone in our community deeply. In his letter he wrote about how difficult and unfair it was to ride a bus home from Florida at a time when African Americans were not allowed to use the same bathrooms at rest stops or eat in the diners along the way. I appreciated his letter greatly and as a class we read it and held a somber discussion about the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Her grandfather’s name was Rev. Julius L. Scipio.
Rev. Scipio was a well known pastor at Pickens Chapel United Methodist in Pickens for many years. He was pastor at Royal Baptist Church in Anderson upon his death. Rev. Julius Scipio was known throughout the country for his nationwide organization that he helped found to serve troubled youth. In a forum on C-span on community activism Rev. Scipio explained how and why he formed Elephant Men for which he received awards and even the Order of the Palmetto. He said he was raised by a hardworking farmer that taught his children how to help and serve their community. They had the belief that “if you have been blessed, become a blessing.” When he came back to Pickens in 1991, he realized there were so many young people slipping through the cracks and being processed. Many of them would wind up in the judicial system. He wanted to help. With the help of his wife, he would bring them into his home and teach them or mentor them. Eventually, this became known as the Elephant Men, because in the jungle adult elephants will form a circle and put their babies in the middle to protect them. Which was what he wanted to do for the troubled youth in the community. He had a feeling that someone needed to care for the babies.
You can see his speech about his charity on this website at the 21 minute mark. https://www.c-span.org/video/?95226-1/community-activism You can read more about him on the South Carolina African American History Calendar website, a great resource for educators or anyone wishing to see the contributions made by many African Americans from South Carolina. https://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/rev-julius-l-scipio/.
Recently, our town of Pickens, elected the second ever African American mayor. Isaiah Scipio is the son of Rev. Julius Scipio. When I asked Mayor Isaiah Scipio how his father influenced the man he is today, he shared a quote from Clarence Budington Kelland, “My father didn’t tell me how to live, he lived and let me watch him do it.” Mayor Scipio said his father’s enthusiasm came from the call to love for the sake of loving. After talking to Mayor Scipio, it is clear both men were called to serve others. Mayor Scipio said, “love has no boundaries, and no other force can conquer love. You can overcome hard times if you don’t become bitter and let it make you bitter.”
Mayor Isaiah Scipio has spent the last 37 years as a minister. He graduated from South Carolina State University, and Memphis State. He served under his father at Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Memphis before they returned home to Pickens and started Pickens Chapel United Methodist. He and his father also started a well known nonprofit called the Elephant Men, to help troubled youth.
When I asked Mayor Scipio why he wanted to become mayor he said that he wanted to touch the lives of others and he felt humbled and excited to serve as mayor of the town he grew up in. He sees being mayor as an opportunity to love and serve others. His main goal as mayor will be to update old infrastructure and bring it up to date, especially the water and pipes in the town of Pickens. He also hopes to find a way to build a new fire department and possibly a new city hall as well. The present buildings are over fifty years old. He is for adequate but not overwhelming growth.
On a deeper level, I asked Mayor Scipio how we can improve race relations in Pickens, and in the country. He said that race relations are moving in a good way. Things are not as bad as portrayed in some media. He said he was just elected mayor in a town with a population of 89% white people, and he got 67% of the vote. “The people judged me by the content of my character and not the color.” He feels it is up to each individual person to build a better present while looking toward the future. He said if you do things with a kind heart only good can come from it.
Finally, as a former teacher, I asked Mayor Scipio “if you were to teach a class about Civil Rights, what would you tell young people about that era?” His response was, “I think we neglected to put forward a unified force of blacks and whites. Unity overcame the atrocities of the past.” He talked about how Harriet Tubman got the credit for freeing the slaves using the Underground Railroad, but she could not have done so without the help of the white homeowners along the way, who were hiding them and providing safe passage to the North.
Today you can find the Reverend and Mayor loving and serving others either at the City Hall of Pickens or in front of his congregation at Ozion Baptist Church in Seneca, SC. It is good to know that the legacy of the Reverend Julius Scipio lives on through his son. He would be so proud.