CONWAY — Jim Crow was alive and well throughout the South in 1961, so it was something of an aberration when Conway resident, Mrs. S.G. Godfrey, a white woman, gave five acres she owned off S.C. 378 as a park for the black community.
“I remembered the day it opened up,” said Sandra Gowans, who was 12 at the time. “We had never seen anything like that.”
The tennis courts, swimming pool and community center had yet to be built, but Gowans recalled how nice it was to have a place to picnic and relax on the lawn under the trees.
The land was donated to the community in honor of Paul Smith and Chess Jones, two prominent black residents. Hence the name, Smith Jones Park.
Gowans said by the time she was of a “hanging out” age, the park had become known as The Rec and was the place where there was always something to do.
“We lived for The Rec on Saturdays and Sundays,” she said.
Gowans is now a member of a nine-person committee that’s organized a day to honor all those who gave of their time and efforts over the last 61 years to make Smith Jones a place for the community to cherish. She said everyone – Conwayites and those of surrounding areas – is invited to the ceremony from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday. There will be a welcome by Conway City Councilwoman Barbara Blain-Olds, keynote speeches by committee chairman Michael Dixon and member Jessie Olds and free refreshments for all comers.
“Very few people, if any,” Gowans said, “have ever gotten paid.”
Gowans said that within months of the park’s opening, the community had secured a $4,000 grant to develop the land, an amount that was quickly matched by the PTO at Whittemore High School and other community members.
By 1963, the city began allocating money for the park’s maintenance and Whittemore coaches provided summer programs.
The park became the site for the city’s first swimming pool for its black residents in 1970, and Godfrey offered an adjacent five acres to the city if it would agree to maintain the pool, community center and tennis courts.
A joint community/city committee was organized, and still exists, to oversee the park’s operations.
The first community center has been torn down, Gowans said, and a new playground area has been built.
“We’ve recently opened a little pavilion, a shelter, to have out there,” Gowans said.
Gowans said the park gave black residents a place where they could relax and be comfortable without having to worry about any Jim Crow laws. The picnic area was used all the time, she said.
But it was more than just a park. It was a step for the neighborhood, for the community and the whole city.
“Once you have a place to relax,” Gowans said, “it positively affects the rest of your life.”
It was only a couple of years ago that Conway’s annual Christmas card contest got just a handful of entries, but increased publicity and city fliers about it in schools and daycare centers has raised the number to dozens for this year’s contest.
The recreation department is taking entries up until 5 p.m. Friday, which will then be forwarded to the City Council to decide which holiday scene will grace the city’s official Christmas card.
The contest is open to kids from 5 to 12 years old, and the winner gets a savings bond plus the honor of his or her artwork representing the city’s Christmas cheer to those on its card list.
Entries must be on 8 1/2-inch by 11-inch paper folded in half. Other sizes will not be considered. The cards may be designed on the front and inside right or inside top (depending on configuration). Parents can give guidance, but the work must be that of the child.
The child’s and parents’ names, the child’s age, address, phone number, email address, school and grade should be on the back of the card.
Foster Hughes, Conway’s director of parks, recreation and tourism, recalled that the 2010 winner showed the clock outside City Hall decorated for the season. In 2011, the winner was a scene of a room in a house with a decorated Christmas tree and Santa coming down the chimney.
Hughes’ hint: an obvious Conway connection in the drawing – live oaks, the river, a historic building – will be looked on favorably.
Entries should be hand delivered to the recreation department at 1515 Mill Pond Road. If there’s time, they can be mailed to “Christmas Card Contest,” P.O. Box 1075, Conway, SC 29528.
Yes, Hughes knows it’s probably a little early for adults to be thinking of Christmas, but the city needs to get its approval done by the council’s November meeting so the winner can get to the printer.
And, we all know, Christmas is never too early for those age 5 to 12.
The city is recommending that kids who will be trick or treating to keep their minds briefly off the BIG HOLIDAY not too far away should do so between 5 and 9 p.m. on Wednesday.
Those of you who will be manning the treat baskets at home, remember to turn on your porch lights so the kids will have a beacon through the night’s spooky shadows on Halloween night.
So sayeth Conway.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.