Former Conway NAACP president H.H. Singleton remembered as strong civil rights activist

mprabhu@thesunnews.comDecember 31, 2012 

The Rev. H.H. Singleton II, former longtime president of the Conway branch of the NAACP and civil rights activist, died Monday morning at Agape Senior assisted living center. He was 80 years old.

Singleton believed in the liberation of humanity, said his son Hank Singleton III.

“He gave a voice to the voiceless,” he said. “His life was his calling and his calling was his life.”

During his lifetime H.H. Singleton argued with officials, sued them, demonstrated against them and challenged public policies throughout Horry County. He faced off against the Horry County School Board, and addressed problems with the Atlantic Beach Bikefest and other issues in the name of equal rights.

Hank Singleton, who is a professor of religion at Benedict College in Columbia, said he knew his father took some unpopular stands during his 80 years, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Part of his calling would be that some people would absolutely love him and some people would absolutely loathe him. But that was his ministerial calling,” he said.

For more than 32 years, H.H. Singleton served as pastor at Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church before he retired in 1997. Palmetto Missionary Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Cheryl Adamson said she remembers when H.H. Singleton joined her church in 1964.

“He was my pastor when I was a little girl,” she said.

Adamson said shortly after H.H. Singleton became senior pastor at Cherry Hill she made the decision to join the church.

“I joined the church on my 13th birthday and he baptized me two weeks later,” she said. “He certainly made an impact on me spiritually and socially. He was a very strong preacher and a very strong advocate of equal rights for all persons.”

The Rev. Dr. James H. Cokley, who has served as pastor at Cherry Hill since April 1998, said it was important to him to continue the work that H.H. Singleton did in and around the church.

“He knew I would continue the effort that he had begun to improve the Conway community,” Cokley said.

H.H. Singleton was a voice for the underprivileged and disenfranchised, said Mickey James, president of the Myrtle Beach branch of the NAACP.

“He is a man beyond measure who is irreplaceable,” James said. “He was a champion for human and civil rights for more than 40 years in Horry County.”

He may be most known for serving as a spokesman for black football players at Conway High School when they decided to boycott the team in 1989 for what they said was racial intolerance.

As a result, H.H. Singleton lost his teaching job at Conway Middle School. He sued the school district over his firing and protesters took to the streets to support both him and the players’ boycott. H.H. Singleton won his case and got his job back.

James said that fight was something he admired most about H.H. Singleton.

“I remember his audacity and courage to stand up in front of the school district when he got terminated,” he said. “It was a very remarkable achievement.”

He said the decision to fight his termination from Horry County Schools spoke to H.H. Singleton’s character.

“It shows a man of high intelligence who is very determined to advocate justice for himself,” James said.

His intellect is something James Dunn said he remembers most about H.H. Singleton. Dunn served on the Horry County School Board when H.H. Singleton was removed from Conway Middle.

“He was probably the most intelligent man I met in Horry County, South Carolina, and I’ve been here almost 30 years,” he said.

In 2003, H.H. Singleton had again received national attention when he initiated two NAACP lawsuits alleging that those who attended the mostly black Atlantic Beach Bikefest were treated differently by governments and businesses than those who attend the mostly white Harley-Davidson rallies.

By 2006, the NAACP had reached settlements with all of the businesses and the city of Myrtle Beach.

Dunn also said he admired H.H. Singleton’s courage, but noted that his friendship – which continued to the present – was with Harry, “not Rev. Singleton.”

“He was compassionate but he’d been pushed around and pushed around and pushed around and he wasn’t going to take it anymore, and he knew how to give it back,” Dunn said. “But I didn’t talk to Rev. Singleton. I talked to Harry. Rev. Singleton didn’t take any crap from anybody. Harry was soft and gentle. He was a very nice person. I loved him.”

Dunn said he visited him as recently as July.

“I’m sad to hear he’s gone. It’s better he’s gone, though, because he was suffering,” he said.

Hank Singleton said his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in summer 2004, shortly after he resigned from the Conway branch of the NAACP. He had been receiving care at Agape since 2009.

H.H. Singleton came to Horry County in 1964 from Marion County to become pastor of Cherry Hill. Two years later he was elected the second president of he Conway branch of the NAACP. He resigned his presidency around 2004, said current Conway branch President Ann Anderson.

H.H. Singleton was born Jan. 29, 1932, in Edgefield County.

His parents and seven siblings lived about a mile from the home of Strom Thurmond, whom his father knew.

His father was a farm foreman and his mother a domestic in the homes of white people. Both were deeply religions and fundamental in their beliefs.

H.H. Singleton was raised in a time when laws were written to keep whites in one place and blacks someplace else, and when there were separate bathrooms and separate drinking fountains for whites and blacks.

In a 2003 interview with The Sun News, he said he began very early in life to

formulate the philosophy that guided him: Mankind cannot move forward until all people deal with each other without the film of race.

He told The Sun News then that most people would be surprised to learn that he thinks all human beings, regardless of their views on race, deserve God’s grace.

“I love everybody irrespectively, even the racist,” he said.

Hank Singleton said he had not yet had time to work on funeral arrangements for his father.

Staff reporter Steve Jones contributed to this report.

Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.

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