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Leaders Agree Communications Opened in Debate Over Secession

March 13, 1985

HEMINGWAY, S.C. (AP) _ A proposal to allow this predominantly white community to secede from a majority black county, rejected by voters a second time, may lead to better communication between the races, leaders on both sides of the issue said Wednesday.

The television crews and host of out-of-town reporters were gone Wednesday, the day after the referendum, and the sleepy tobacco-farming town was back to normal. But the impact of the two-year debate over the secession issue, which divided residents along racial lines, was expected to be felt for some time to come.

Stanley Pasley, an organizer of secession opponents, including many black residents, said he thought the two groups might meet to discuss their concerns ″at some point in the future, once the heat of the election dies.″

″It’s been kind of pressure-packed. I think everybody wants to step back for a few hours or a few days,″ Pasley said. ″And I think once that happens we’ll be meeting with the main players of the secessionists.″

″It’s time to heal wounds,″ agreed William Chandler, a white attorney who helped organize the secession referendum.

For the second time in eight months, voters Tuesday rejected a proposal to allow the 6,000 residents of Hemingway and surrounding Johnson Township to leave Williamsburg County and be annexed by Florence County.

Williamsburg County is 65 percent black, while Florence County is 62 percent white. The proposed annexation area is 54 percent white and makes up about a quarter of Williamsburg County’s tax base.

Unofficial totals showed that 1,531 residents, or about 61 percent, favored annexation, while 950 opposed it. But the vote fell 135 ballots short of the two-thirds majority needed for approval. About 83 percent of the area’s registered voters went to the polls.

In the first vote on the issue in July, residents also failed to approve secession, but the results were disqualified because numbers on ballots violated the secrecy of the election.

White supporters of secession contended that the move to Florence County would mean better schools and better services. But black opponents claimed the proposal was racially motivated.

Pasley suggested that the debate has helped ″identify the players in each of the communities of this area. And hopefully these players will find it within themselves the ability to forge a coalition that can effectively deal with these issues.″

Chandler agreed, saying, ″Maybe if we have improved relations between the races and improved communications ... I think we will have benefitted the community.″

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