COLUMBIA, S.C. – David Lunn of Detroit remembers March 3, 1970, quite clearly. He was a senior at Spaulding High School in Lamar and one of six African American students attacked on a school bus by a mob of about 200 people. He recognized many of the attackers to be part of the Ku Klux Klan.
He and other survivors of the attack were honored Tuesday at an event in Columbia.
Around the time of the attack, Lunn said, some of the African American students were having sit-ins because schools were being integrated. Many people said they wanted equal desegregation because the school African Americans attended was newer. African Americans attended Spaulding High School and Caucasians attended Lamar High School.
“And because of the nuances of it, a lot of our seniors and juniors did not want to go over to the Caucasian school at that particular time although the law had said that we should integrate,” Lunn said. “There were some people in the area who were Caucasian and they decided that they didn’t want us there anyway.”
Before the attack on March 3, 1970, and before the sit-ins, Lunn said, some Caucasian people would lie down in the road when they saw the buses coming with African American children on them so that the buses could not enter the school’s property. There was a period of about two to three weeks when the African American students were out of school because of the “turbulence” that was occurring, Lunn said.
But when it was time to return to school, the African American students were threatened.
“They told us not to drive the buses and not to even come to school,” Lunn said. “I mean, I got all kind of obscene phone calls and it was ugly talk and that kind of thing, using the n-word, that kind of thing.”
On the day the students were to return to school, a mob of people from Lamar, Hartsville, Darlington, Bishopville and surrounding places gathered at the school.
“Basically when we drove up and steadied ourselves to a slow stop, they took ax handles, they threw bricks,” Lunn said. “Somebody said there were gunshots.”
The mob surrounded the bus and flipped it over while Lunn, Edward Lunn, Ronald Bacote, Clarence Brunson, Sally Wilds and Woodrow Wilson were still on it. Lunn said about 40 policemen and even people inside the school were looking on. But no one lifted a hand to help them against the mob.
“I kept calling their names to see if they were alive because we stayed on the bus for a moment,” Lunn said. “We were afraid to get off. And the thing about it is, that day, I’ll be honest with you, I thought that would be the end for us.”
But the students survived that assault from 1970. Lunn said he thanks God that he is alive.
“I can’t hold people all of my life and their life because they’re ignorant of the fact that God made all of us different. And not only that, we have different cultures. You can’t do anything about that,” Lunn said. “As far as me right now, I’m happy clappy. As I said, I’m still alive. And that day, I thought it was going to be the ending of my life. I can end it all by saying this, they may have meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
Lunn, Bacote and Brunson reunited Tuesday afternoon at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, 49 years after the attack happened. They were recognized on the Senate floor and met with Governor Henry McMaster. State Sen. Gerald Malloy, a Democrat from Darlington, presented a resolution to recognize the group for their role in the fight for desegregation and for their outstanding resiliency in the face of trauma. He told members of the Senate what happened to the six students on the bus in 1970.
“At some point in time, you have to let go. And I think that these folks, they did let go in some regard many years ago,” Malloy said. “It is evident by the lives that they have led and what they have done to go on and raise their families and try to do good work.”
Brunson said it is time for their story to be told and told truthfully.
“Well now they know what went on because myself and two colleagues, we were there,” Brunson said. “So it’s about time the true story be told.”
Bacote said it is a relief that someone has listened to their story.
“Many years I’ve tried to tell the story to different people, and nobody wanted to hear it,” Bacote said. “So it’s a relief just for somebody to recognize us.”
Edward Lunn and Woodrow Wilson did not attend Tuesday’s recognition. Sally Wilds is now deceased.