Reversal of Policy: SCETV Shows "The Uprising of '34"

By Tom Terrill

In a reversal of its 1995 decision, South Carolina Educational Television finally aired the award-winning film, "The Uprising of '34" on June 2. During a pre-recorded panel discussions after the airing George Stoney, co-producer of the film, James Morris, executive director of the South Carolina Manufacturer's Alliance, and Thomas Terrill, professor of history at the University of South Carolina and a consultant on the film talked about the response evoked by the film in Southern mill communities.

The School of Journalism at University of South Carolina, in cooperation with the Department of History and Media Arts, conducted a symposium on the film on June 3 for students, faculty, and the public. Group viewings of the film are also planned.

Recent changes at SCETV are probably what made the June telecast possible. Paul Amos replaced Henry Cauthen as president of SCETV in April. Cauthen, who headed SCETV for more than two decades, had close ties to South Carolina's textile industry, and prominent textile leaders contributed funds toward the construction of SCETV's new facility, a large, handsome structure located in Columbia. Cauthen denied that he was responsible for the decision to block the telecast, but that seems very unlikely. Some of the SCETV staff had a major role in making the "Uprising" telecast a top priority, a position that Amos supported. (See Fall 1994 issue of Southern Changes for an acccount of the making of "Uprising of '34".)

Before its June airing, "The Uprising of '34" had been seen by numerous audiences in South Carolina. One of the first showings of the film took place in Honea Path where seven workers were killed by gunfire. Five hundred people attended the Honea Path showing and a memorial service for the slain workers. The producers and friends of "Uprising" bought time for a late night showing in Greenville in 1995.

Seeing "Uprising" remains problematic in some places in the state. Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE) rented the West End Hall in Easley, South Carolina, from the Chamber of Commerce in order to show the film on April 30. Easley officials, led by Mayor Bill Carr, canceled the rental. David Watson, executive director of the chamber, explained that the mayor's office objected to the rental of the hall for the showing because "we are very cautious about renting it out to things that might be considered controversial." "Employees and employers in Pickens County," Watson said, according to the Greenville News , "enjoy a wonderful working relationship and in no way would we want to damage or cause controversy about a relationship that has worked since the founding of the county."

CAFE protested the cancellation, and its members picketed the Chamber of Commerce on May 6. That evening CAFE ran "Uprising" at the Pickens County Public Library.

Tom Terrill is a professor of history at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. He is co-author of The American South: A History.