- Associated Press - Monday, February 16, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Black lawmakers told a quickly-assembled Statehouse rally to save South Carolina State University that they will make sure the school does not close.

Several hundred people showed up on a cold Monday for the rally which the NAACP first announced three days earlier.

The gathering came less than a week after a House panel stunned the university by passing a proposal to temporarily close SC State for a massive overhaul, then reopen it in 2017. While it quickly became apparent the idea wouldn’t get through the Senate, black leaders were still stunned that such a radical step could even be suggested.

Supporters of the closing proposal said the university has done little to address at least $10 million in debt, declining enrollment and a low graduation rate.

Speakers at the rally told the crowd that SC State alumni need to give money to the school and encourage their children and others that the state’s only public historically black university is a good place to get a degree.

“We can’t just party hardy and tailgate outside of football games,” said the Rev. Joe Darby, a SC State alum and leader in the state’s civil rights movement.

But Darby said plenty of blame should also go toward a state government that gives more to other public schools than it does to the one founded to educate blacks.

“The state of South Carolina has a sad and sorry history of only giving S.C. State enough to get by,” Darby said.

The proposal to temporarily close the university will be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. Three black House members who are on the committee were introduced at the rally.

“SC State is not going to close,” said Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins.

SC State President Thomas Elzey didn’t speak at the rally as trustees were holding a finance committee meeting later Monday.

Attendance at the rally appeared to be close to the same number of people who attend the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s chief civil rights event of the year - the Martin Luther King Jr. Day rally at the Statehouse.

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