Phillip Howell is a somewhat unusual member of the Aiken Branch of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People.
An active member for 12 years - serving as second vice president the past two - the native Southern Californian said as a child he would sit and talk with shoeshine guys while his mother shopped.
As a teenager, he helped with the cleanup after the Watts riots.
But what makes him unique is that Mr. Howell, 53, was the only white man at the Aiken Branch NAACP's 85th-anniversary ceremony at Montmorenci Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday. He is one of a few white members of the organization.
"I understood why the riots happened and why the people felt the way they felt. It wasn't just violent people," he said. "Growing up, I never understood why white people treated black people so bad. I joined (the NAACP) because it was the right thing to do."
Mr. Howell has not missed an anniversary since he joined the Aiken branch and was adamant about hearing the speaker, the Rev. Joseph Darby, the first vice president of the South Carolina Conference of Branches.
"Our ancestors did a lot of work in their time, but there's still work to be done in ours," the Rev. Darby said in reference to education and the economy.
James Gallman, the president of the South Carolina Conference of Branches, introduced the Rev. Darby.
Mr. Gallman has said he will not run for re-election.
"It's time to let someone else provide leadership and we'll go from there," he said.
Aiken branch President David Walker reminded those attending that the NAACP is for equality and justice for all races. He said his branch is working on issues involving education, unemployment, HIV and AIDS and voter registration.
Its voter-registration campaign includes jails.
"Unless those inmates have been convicted of a crime, they are eligible to vote by absentee ballot," the Rev. Walker said.
The Aiken branch was founded only nine years after the national NAACP began. Mr. Howell said because the organization has been around so long and because it helps nonmembers - nearly 100 percent of the people who seek help are nonmembers, he said - people are not joining as they should.
"Black people have gotten too comfortable," he said. "They will pay $30 to eat in a restaurant but won't pay $30 for the organization that helped guarantee them that seat."
The Rev. Walker said he has seen change in some areas while others are the same, and the fight for change is a hard one.
"It's sometimes a battle because you find yourself fighting for people who don't care whether you fight for them or not, or who think it won't matter," he said. But, he said, he stays in the struggle for his children and grandchildren.
"You don't give up. You keep fighting."
"Our ancestors did a lot of work in their time, but there's still work to be done in ours." - The Rev. Joseph Darby, the first vice president of the South Carolina Conference of Branches of the NAACP
Reach C. Samantha McKevie at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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