The new owners of Seven Gables in North Augusta are reopening the business as the Palmetto House, and were holding a ribbon-cutting today to show off the remodeled 1903 hunting lodge.
It is a beautiful old building, and will now be a special-events facility for weddings, parties and the like. But back in 1989, when I was a reporter with the now-defunct Post weekly paper in North Augusta, Seven Gables housed a restaurant and lounge called the Buffalo Room.
The diner was renowned for its hamburgers. I never ate there, but a lot of reporters I knew did. Heck, it's right across Georgia Avenue from WBBQ radio, which back then had a news department, and WRDW-TV 12, which still does.
Apparently none of them noticed that the Buffalo Room's owner, Bruce Salter, refused to serve black customers.
Maybe it's just because I was new to that area, but I noticed right after I got there. It helped that the competing weekly printed a single paragraph on a federal complaint about the whites-only policy deep inside their paper. We dug into it, and our subsequent front-page story led to sudden interest from the previously oblivious other area media.
All of it led to complaints and lawsuits, and eventually the restaurant's closure. The building has sat mostly vacant until now, and the new Seven Gables owners have a grand opportunity to finally exorcize the buildings' racist ghosts.
These days, every time I encounter some ignorant backlash about race issues, I remember that story and wonder how for all those years my fellow white journalists failed to notice the homogenous clientele as they ate their burgers. And I wonder what other things we still fail to notice.
I've never been comfortable knowing I had a role in putting a man out of business. But at least I never had any heartburn over a meal that only people who looked like me were allowed to eat.
Speaking of race and history, I got an interesting letter from Keith Brown after my column the other day regarding the political significance of the 1992 election in Columbia County.
Brown refers to himself as a member of the Columbia County National Socialist Party - each to his own, I suppose - and he passes along a historical factoid.
In references to first-time events in 1992, I was careful to qualify by adding these events were firsts "in modern history." That's because the Reconstruction period after the War Between the States, was topsy-turvy with election anomalies - including, as historian Charles Lord told me, the election of a black Republican to Columbia County's state legislative delegation.
According to a piece Brown sent, the Republican Party received just one vote in 1868 in Columbia County after having received 1,122 votes in the previous election.
The difference? The Ku Klux Klan - which drove support to the Democrats.
On Saturday, Keep Columbia County Beautiful again will bring in a recycling company to take old electronics from residents who've been cluttering their garages and attics.
This one is coming just four weeks since the last one because so many people were turned away from that Sept. 22 collection. The county had increased its capacity by ordering more trucks from the recycler, but they still filled up before closing time and had to quit taking donations.
Some of those who were turned away got mad about it and complained, so Saturday's capacity will be all but unlimited.
I just hope those who were rejected last time will be first in line this time.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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