“Corridor of Shame” Receives National Attention, But Few Solutions

COLUMBIA S.C.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards has become the latest Democratic presidential candidate to address struggling South Carolina schools in a rural swath dubbed the “Corridor of Shame.”

Edwards visited two schools Thursday in the region along Interstate 95 where some of the poorest areas of South Carolina are found along with several school districts that have sued the state, saying the way it pays for schools is unfair.

Fellow Democratic presidential hopefuls are talking about the area too. Illinois Sen. Barrack Obama visited the region in August and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton used the area in a radio ad, where she said: “If you are a child in a crumbling school along the ‘Corridor of Shame,’ you are invisible to this president.”

But neither the lawyer defending the school districts nor the state education superintendent think the candidates can influence the state to give up its legal fight or the Republican-controlled Legislature to give schools more money.

“I wish there was someone who could ride in on a white horse and change things,” said Education Superintendent Jim Rex, the only Democrat elected to statewide office. “But it’s a South Carolina problem and something South Carolinians created over decades. We’re the ones who will have to solve it.”

The attention may at least help South Carolinians realize improving education is a national issue, not just a state problem, Rex said.

“If we weren’t an early primary state, I don’t think they’d care about our corridor,” Rex said.

South Carolina has spent millions defending itself by arguing its public schools provide every student the chance of a “minimally adequate education.”

“I do think it’s meaningful that national candidates are so moved by the situation in our plaintiff districts they’ve made it part of their campaigns,” said Carl Epps, an attorney for the districts.

But he doubts their presence will have any direct impact on the lawsuit.

The region picked up the nickname “Corridor of Shame” from an hour-long documentary about the poor school districts.

During his visit to 111-year-old J.V. Martin Junior High in Dillon in August, Obama picked up many of the themes of the documentary, which also featured South Carolina’s oldest continually operating school.

“The school itself has become a barrier to education. Windows have been broken. Ceilings have caved in. Roofs have leaked. Bathrooms have not worked,” Obama said. “When a child goes to a school that’s crumbling, is it any wonder that she gets a sense her education is not important?”

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Mark Sanford said the attention by the candidates is nothing more than politics.

“By and large we recognize this for what it is, which is to get on TV, rather than really address educational challenges,” Joel Sawyer said.

Schools in Washington, D.C., are among the nation’s most expensive yet consistently rank last in performance. “They don’t have to come all the way to South Carolina to see more money is not always the answer,” Sawyer said.

One of Edwards’ stops Thursday was at Scott’s Branch High School in Summerton, where he thanked the parents who from that very town launched the fight 60 years ago to defeat segregation in public schools.

“I want to acknowledge the extraordinary historical importance of this community,” Edwards said. “All of you should be very, very proud.”

But America still has two separate public school systems divided not just by race but by poverty and the federal government must help bridge the inequities, Edwards said.

Joseph DeLaine Jr., whose father a pastor and principal organized Summerton parents to challenge segregation, said he too is skeptical appearances by presidential candidates will bring change. The exception may be if one of the Democrats is elected president and then follows through on educational promises.

Summerton was showered with attention in 2004, the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision declaring segregation unconstitutional a decision rooted in Summerton. Briggs v. Elliott, which began in 1947 as Black parents wanting a school bus for their children, became the first of five lawsuits combined before the U.S. Supreme Court as Brown v. Board of Education.

The anniversary brought “a lot of publicity down here, and when that publicity was over, everybody forgot about this area,” said DeLaine, who now lives in Charlotte, N.C.

Change will come when locals demand it, he said.

“Some of it has to do with our responsibility,” he said. “If we don’t scream, we aren’t going to get it. What happened in the ’40s and ’50s, this community stuck together and demanded.”

— Associated Press



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