'Voices and Votes' exhibit opens at Aiken County Historical Museum

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Jul. 23—New faces are in place for the local presentation of Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, as the months-long project includes some highlights over the next few days, with a new exhibit starting a six-week run today at the Aiken County Historical Museum and a free symposium set for today at Second Baptist Church.

"The History of Democracy in South Carolina," set for 5 p.m., is to be "a lively symposium on the dramatic events and jagged history of voting rights in South Carolina and Aiken County," as set forth in promotional material. Discussion is to be among Drs. Walter Edgar, Bobby Donaldson and Tom Mack.

The church's base of operations, in the wake of a massive renovation and relocation project, is 1151 York St. N.E.

Edgar, with decades of experience in education at the University of South Carolina, is largely known through his role as the host of Walter Edgar's Journal on South Carolina Public Radio. Donaldson, an associate professor of history also at USC, grew up in Beech Island and leads the university's Center for Civil Rights History and Research. Mack, an Aiken Standard columnist and longtime educator at USC Aiken, is the author of a variety of compositions on American literature and cultural history. They are natives of Alabama, Georgia and Pennsylvania, respectively.

The museum is at 433 Newberry St. S.W., at the intersection with South Boundary Avenue. Admission is free. The exhibit was developed by the National Museum of American History, and adapted for travel by Museum on Main Street. It is described in promotional material as "a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and state humanities councils across the country." The exhibit is to be up through Sept. 2.

"The larger exhibit was compressed and made transportable, so that it could be shared with small communities, and this year, one of their exhibits ... is on a tour of the state of South Carolina, and South Carolina Humanities served as sort of the broker," said Doug Rabold, secretary of the local Voices and Votes program committee.

"They received applications from various communities throughout the state who wanted to exhibit this traveling exhibit, and Aiken was chosen to be among the six with the privilege of exhibiting it," he added.

The main exhibit, with material representing the entire country, is in the ballroom. A smaller exhibit, with a variety of items representing South Carolina and Aiken County in particular, is a few yards away in the parlor.

"It features Aiken County's history as it pertains to voting rights history or significant moments in election and voting history," said Lauren Virgo, the museum's executive director.

The parlor display includes "the local component along with some of the interactives that were also sent by the Smithsonian for adults and children alike to have fun with," she added.

The Rev. Doug Slaughter, senior pastor of Second Baptist, also joined the discussion. "This exhibition couldn't have come at a more appropriate time for us, with the realization of how democracy is still a work in progress and can be derailed especially when citizens take it for granted," he wrote.

"The exhibit captures the struggle and the importance of our participation in the democratic process by using our votes and our voices," he added. "Someone once said those who don't remember history may be doomed to repeat it."

Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 2 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Related events on the near horizon include a book talk set for 6 p.m. Friday, July 29, at the Center for African American History, Art and Culture on York Street. Speaking will be Judge Richard Gergel, a Columbia native who serves in Charleston and is the author of "Unexampled Courage." Gergel's book examines the legal ramifications of the case of Fairfield County native Isaac Woodward, a World War II veteran who was permanently blinded as the result of a 1946 attack by police officers in Batesburg as he was on a bus trip, heading home from service in the Pacific theater.

Also within the next month will be a symposium at the USC Aiken Etherredge Center at 7 p.m. Aug. 18. The theme will be "Voting Matters: Suppression and Disenfranchisement."

"The Big Debate," a one-act drama based on the concept of Frederick Douglass debating Susan B. Anthony, is set for 11 a.m. Aug. 24 at the Etherredge Center, on the topic of suffrage; and a book talk titled "One Woman, One Vote" is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 26 at the Center for African American History, Art and Culture. The author in the spotlight will be Marjorie Spruill, a retired University of South Carolina professor who has compiled "this anthology of leading historians' insightful research and contemporary writings on the U.S. suffrage movement, involving generations of women's rights advocates," as described on the local Voices and Votes website. All events are free.