Category Archives: Lifestyles

Would justice be possible?

31 men arrested and put on trial in Earle’s death

By Dr. Thomas Cloer, Jr.

Special to The Courier

Last week, we began a review of William B. Gravely’s book “They Stole Him Out of Jail: Willie Earle, South Carolina’s Last Lynching Victim.” The just-released book from the South Carolina Press ( or is the most thoroughly researched book ever on the 1947 lynching of Willie Earle, a black prisoner taken from the old Pickens jail and brutally killed and left on the side of a road across the Greenville County line outside Easley.

The Brutal Murder of Willie Earle

Greenville taxi drivers Roosevelt Hurd, Marvin “Red” Fleming, Griggs, Woodrow Clardy and Hendrix Rector went to Willie Earle’s cell at the old Pickens jail and grabbed him out. Driver Rector grabbed Earle by the collar. Griggs jerked him down steps, and Earle was shoved violently into different drivers. Drivers Hurd, Clardy and Fleming, with help from another driver, threw the prisoner into the lead taxi cab. Hurd was in the front car holding one of the shotguns. He was still partaking of whiskey and was becoming more inebriated as the long night unfolded.

The official drivers’ statements gave different versions of who questioned Earle about knifing cab driver Thomas Brown. Fourteen of the statements from those arrested said that Earle confessed before dying; other statements contradicted. Of course, a confession under such circumstances means little. After passing into Greenville County, the seven remaining taxis stopped to question Earle further. Hurd pointed the shotgun at Willie Earle’s head and Clardy called out not to kill that “negro” in his cab. “That’s where I make my living,” he said, according to statements. Clardy then led the mob to a more secluded spot near the property of the judge who would later conduct the trial.

Gravely writes in a sobering manner, “Arriving at the spot … the central actors gathered around Earle for the last time.” Driver Red Fleming “tried to talk nice to the n—–,” according to driver Charlie Covington’s statement to law officials. Fleming reminded Earle that he didn’t have long to live and coaxed Earle not to “die with a lie in his heart.” Someone shouted that they should take Earle to the hospital and let Thomas Brown identify him. Remember, driver Thomas Brown died after Willie Earle. At this time, Brown was still alive at St. Francis Hospital. The drivers pushed hard to get Earle to identify the other attacker of Brown. Wanting his breath of life for any extended minutes he might get, Earle begged the men to take him where he could identify a person.

Gravely writes, “Suddenly, the talking ceased.” Driver Griggs hit Earle hard in the face. Driver Rector took the shotgun that Clardy

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Pickens native authors book detailing South Carolina’s last lynching

By Dr. Thomas Cloer, Jr.

Special to The Courier

In an age of technology, one need only to look at images of lynching victims to start wondering about the stories behind the images.

Pickens native William B. “Will” Gravely — an erudite scholar, renowned historian, polished author and professor emeritus at the University of Denver — has written the most comprehensive book ever on the barbaric lynching of young Willie Earle, a black Pickens County native killed in South Carolina’s last lynching after being taken from the jail by more than two dozen white men in 1947.

Early in America, before the Civil War, lynching referred to hanging. The term “lynching” gained broader meaning when hanging was replaced by easier and other acts of violence and torture, such as burnings, shootings, knifings, etc., of someone suspected of a crime. Lynching no longer means hanging only.

The 24-year-old Earle, who suffered from epilepsy, was taken from the old Pickens County jail, now the Pickens County Museum of Art and History. He was taken by a mob of taxi drivers from Greenville County in February 1947. Earle was beaten, stabbed repeatedly and shot at very close range in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun; his was a horrific murder. Gravely’s book, “They Stole

Him out of Jail,” is very recently published by the University of South Carolina Press ( The book is not only about the lynching, but is also about our Southern history, and how this lynching reverberated throughout America.


There were 26 men who gave confessions. However, there were differences in their testimonies that were troubling. A same incident can be interpreted many ways. When there is no tangible evidence to verify or disqualify an interpretation, how can one know what is

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Bringing the hits

Legendary Oak Ridge Boys set to headline annual Blue Ridge Fest

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — When Richard Sterban joined the Oak Ridge Boys in 1972, he had no idea the band would still be going strong 47 years later.

In fact, some people questioned the wisdom of his decision at first.

“I was in kind of a unique position in my life,” Sterban said. “I was with a group called J.D. Sumner and the Stamps Quartet.”

That group was performing with the King himself.

“I was standing pretty much in the dark onstage but I was

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Railroad Festival rolls into Central April 27

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

CENTRAL — The Central Railroad Festival is set for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, April 26, in downtown Central.

The festival highlights the railroad heritage of Central, which got its name due to being located at the central point of the railroad line linking Atlanta and Charlotte.

Admission to the festival is free, festival director Noreene Billado said.

“There’s also free parking at remote sites with free CAT Bus shuttles to the festival,” she said.

This year’s festival features “lots of kids activities,” Billado said.

“There will be inflatables, crafts they can make and take (and) a children’s stage,” she said.

The children’s stage will host a children’s entertainer and magician, a martial arts group, Elevation Dance from Pendleton

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Holly Springs Center expanding offerings with special events

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — Holly Springs Center director Abby Baker wishes more people knew about the center and all it offers.

“Marketing this is something we absolutely have to do, have to figure out,” Baker said. “We have to get ourselves out there.”

Not long after School District of Pickens County officials announced Holly Springs Elementary School would close, community members rallied in 2017 to discuss how the school facility could continue to serve the community.

The nonprofit center offered its first slate of summer programming later that year. It now offers School of Mountain

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Honoring Their Service

Pickens High baseball hosts Military Appreciation Day event

By Bru Nimmons
Staff Reporter

PICKENS — For the first time, the Pickens High School baseball team held a rousing Military Appreciation Day celebration Friday to honor military personnel during a game against Walhalla.

More than 50 current and former members of the United States Armed Forces were in attendance for the game, which saw the Blue Flame come up on the wrong end of a 10-2 final score against the Razorbacks.

The night began with Cadet Maj. Jordan Rucker delivering a student-led message to those on hand before the game, and members of each branch of the military were honored as their service anthems were played.

The largest of the pre-game festivities started soon after, as Command Sgt. Russell Vickery, the state commander of the Army National Guard, flew onto the field in a Blackhawk helicopter. Vickery threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former Pickens baseball player, and current Army National

Six Mile marks anniversary of devastating 1929 tornado

By Ron Barnett
Staff Reporter


In the evening of March 13, 1929, a tornado swept through the tiny town of Six Mile, killing nine people — all of them relatives — and leaving tragic second-hand memories that remain even today, 90 years later.

Descendants of the storm’s victims, the families of Benjamin Tillman Garrett, the town’s postmaster, and his brother, George Nelson Garrett, a deputy sheriff, gathered on the anniversary of the tragedy last Wednesday to call to mind

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Mariner’s Compass pattern now adorns Pickens Visitor Center

PICKENS — A Mariner’s Compass quilt block now adorns the Pickens Visitor Center.

Ellie Elzerman, a veteran quilter and Pickens County resident, lives in the rural Central area and has a long fiber arts history beginning with learning her sewing skills from her mother and aunt. Elzerman has also been a weaver and spinner who experiments with natural dyes. As a teacher working with children, she has shared her passion for fabric and design with her community.

The history of the Mariner’s Compass pattern dates back to 1726, when it was adapted from the ancient compass rose that Portuguese

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By Nicole Chisari

Winthrop University

ROCK HILL — Brandon Dill is trying to get comfortable with biking next to trucks on the open road.

“I’ve been riding on the road when I can,” said the Winthrop University senior, a 2015 Pickens High School graduate. “It’s still hard to get used to a semi-truck passing within five feet of me, but I’m a lot calmer now. … I’m about 70 percent prepared. The rest, I’m winging it.”

He’ll need that calm this June, when he’ll bike approximately 3,500

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Upstate Forever honors Chastain for conservation advocacy

By Jason Evans
Staff Reporter


Pickens resident Dennis Chastain was recently recognized by Upstate Forever for his decades of dedication to preserving the history and beauty of this area.

Chastain received the Extraordinary Achievement Award at the 2019 ForeverGreen Awards Luncheon held Feb. 19 in Greenville.

The Extraordinary Achievement Award recognizes an individual who, through dedication and leadership, has made an extraordinary contribution to conservation and/or sustainable growth in the Upstate, according to a news release from Upstate Forever.

The award recognizes Chastain for this more than 40 years of work as a writer, historian, botanist, guide and conservation advocate, the release said.

Chastain is an award-winning outdoor writer, historian, tour guide and interpretive naturalist.

“I’ve written about everything from black bears to butterflies,” he said in a video shown at the awards ceremony. “You’d think there were no more topics, but actually there’s always something to write about.”

Chastain is currently the Blue Wall vice president of the Pickens County Historical Society. Among his work for that group is helping to secure funding for a historically accurate reconstruction of the colonial era Fort Prince George.

“I think the best way to describe Dennis is ‘Renaissance Man,” Upstate Forever founder Brad Wyche said in the video. “Dennis has been such a great ally for Upstate Forever and other conservation organizations on so many important initiatives in the Upstate over the last 40 years. He is such a treasure for the Upstate.

Chastain has “helped us learn more about the region in which we live,” he said.

“He’s helped make the Upstate a much better place,” Wyche said.

Chastain’s roots in the area run deep. His ancestors arrived in the region in 1796.

He and his wife, Jane, live on the Chastain family’s homeplace in the shadow of Table Rock.

In the video, Chastain said he spent a lot of his summers growing up at the old homeplace.

“Somewhere along the way, I just developed this enduring love for all things wild and wonderful,” Chastain said.

Speaking with the Courier, Chastain said the award “came out of the blue.”

“It’s honestly just incredible,” he said. “It was an absolute, complete surprise.”

He’s the sixth person to receive the award.

“I have the greatest respect for Upstate Forever as an organization,” Chastain said. “Jane and I have been members since the organization consisted of three people. We’ve been associated with Upstate Forever for a long time. It made the honor even greater.”

Filling out a questionnaire in preparation for the award ceremony sent him on “a journey back through time,” he said.

“One of the questions was ‘what was your greatest environmental or conservational success?’” Chastain said.

One was a battle in the 1980s to keep the waters near Table Rock pristine after a developer proposed a sewage treatment plant.

“They were proposing to discharge the effluent into the Oolenoy River at the very point where the wildlife department stocks trout,” Chastain said.

A concerned group appointed him to “take on the task of fighting this thing,” he said.

“It really was a David vs. Goliath story,” Chastain said. “Just me and my powers of persuasion and the documents.”

Chastain studied the permitting system and “found a way to beat them,” he said.

“You’ll notice there’s no sewage treatment plant on the Oolenoy River,” Chastain said with a laugh.

“Rivers at Risk,” one of his articles for South Carolina Wildlife magazine, led to statewide changes. His research revealed that two-thirds of the state’s lakes, rivers and streams were classified by DHEC as Class B, a classification that permitted fecal coliform bacteria at levels considered “unsafe for swimming and fishing,” he said. That was a direct violation of the Clean Water Act’s “fishable/swimmable” standard, Chastain said.

“The agency charged with protecting our health was allowing discharges to the point where it wasn’t safe to swim or fish,” he said. “This was outrageous.”

The article created “a drumbeat of support” from residents, and six weeks after its publication, Chastain received a call from Mike Jarrett, then the executive director of DHEC.

“He said that he had read my article and made the decision while actually reading the article that they were going to totally eliminate the Class B classification and revamp their entire stream classification system,” he said. “Amazing. It was honestly one of the most gratifying moments of my life.”

Chastain says he’s used a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt as his guiding philosophy in life.

“‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are,’” he said. “That says it all.”


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