SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - In June of this year, the small community of Little Africa in northern Spartanburg County found itself in the middle of the local news cycle amid nationwide protests for racial justice when swastikas and racial slurs were discovered on the neighborhood’s signs, guardrails, and bridges.
“Things gonna change. It don’t come when you want it to come, but God gonna let it change,” Cora Martin of Little Africa told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal in July, not long after the vandalism had been cleaned up by the community.
And things definitely have changed in the five months since then. The community hasn’t seen any more vandalism, but there’s still mixed morale, according to resident Sundra Proctor Smith.
“We still are concerned. I don’t think that fear is going to go totally away anytime soon. But at the end of the day, we still have to live our lives and we are still a very religious group of people, so we have faith over fear,” Smith said. “And so we want to just continue to have faith that no harm or danger will come to us.”
“No matter what, we’re hopeful,” she continued.
Resident Heidi Thiry said there’s an attitude of “watchfulness and awareness” in Little Africa following the vandalism. Neighbors look out for each other.
“I truly believe this community has turned an ignorant and hateful act into a catalyst for community growth,” Thiry said.
‘COVID-19 HAS MADE ITS WAY TO LITTLE AFRICA’
ZIP code 29323, where Little Africa is located, has seen 766 reported COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s beginning and as of Dec. 16. Spartanburg County, which accounts for 6.2% of the state’s population, accounted for 8.6% of the new cases (209) on Dec. 16 and was at 93.2% hospital occupancy, according to the South Carolina state health department.
The Herald-Journal spoke to three Little Africa residents for this story and each knew multiple people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has made its way to Little Africa,” Smith said. Both of her parents have tested positive for COVID-19 and have since recovered.
Members of the community miss gathering together at L.A. Vibes, a local restaurant, or at the nearby ballpark. Thiry said some have had ideas for pot lucks and other social events, but they’ve been put on hold due to the pandemic.
“It’s also always on my mind when I visit my neighbors who are older,” Thiry said about COVID-19. “I would feel terrible if I, or my children, unknowingly passed the virus onto someone else.”
Little Africa is a diverse community made up of “of nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers, preachers (and) police officers,” as resident Cora Martin says proudly of her community.
Of course, with people from all walks of life, Little Africa wasn’t excluded from the political division that polarized the rest of the country before and after the 2020 election.
“We’re a diverse community so we have mixed views about the election,” said Smith, who has been involved in her community politically.
Smith helped many in Spartanburg County register to vote, helped with the U.S. Census count, worked with the League of Women Voters, gave virtual presentations about the voting process and served as a poll clerk on election day.
What will cause the most change in Little Africa, according to Smith, is the loss of longtime state Sen. Glenn Reese.
“He has done a lot of things for our community,” Smith said.
In three decades, Reese has helped to bring millions of dollars in grants to Spartanburg County.
“The money is going somewhere,” said Reese, who lost to Republican Josh Kimbrell this November. “I always tried to make sure Spartanburg got more than its fair share.
Smith said most of the community is overwhelmingly content with the presidential election results, though she wished the majority of South Carolina would have voted for Jaime Harrison to replace U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham.
“Win or lose, no matter what, we’re still gonna put on our boots and go back to work the next day, no matter what,” Smith said.
“And keep trying to build a better democracy, a better America, a better Spartanburg.”
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