Conor Hughes, Greenville News
Published 10:25 p.m. ET June 13, 2020
CLEMSON, S.C. — When Gabrien Gillespie watched the video of George Floyd dying under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee, he thought of Sharonda Singleton. And he thought of her when he heard how police shot and killed Breonna Taylor, a Louisville EMT, as she sat in her home.
Singleton was one of the nine people massacred by a white supremacist at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in 2015.
Gillespie, a junior at Clemson University and a Charleston native, played baseball with Singleton’s son and knew her well.
She was at the forefront of his mind again Saturday as he marched through downtown Clemson, sign in hand, with about 3,000 other people in a call for racial equality.
“That’s one of the thing that’s just in the back of my head all the time,” he said.
The demonstration, which began at Clemson University’s Bowman Field, was organized by members of the school’s football team: running back Darien Rencher, quarterback Trevor Lawrence, linebacker Mike Jones Jr., and wide receiver Cornell Powell.
Speaking to the throngs of people who gathered for the rally, Rencher said he hopes the demonstration will only be the beginning of larger change at the university and beyond,
“Shame on everybody, shame on Clemson football, shame on us if we just came here to have a big gathering,” he said. “We came together to be unified and, when we leave, to take steps.”
Head football coach Dabo Swinney, who introduced Lawrence and Rencher, said now is a time to listen to those most impacted by racial inequity.
“Our players had the courage to speak out, along with so many beautiful students on this campus, about their concerns, their feelings, about the buildings on this campus,” he told the crowd.
As demonstrations continue to sweep the country in the wake of Floyd’s death, Clemson University is attempting to reckon with racist parts of its past.
On Friday, the school announced it was changing the name of Calhoun Honors College, which was named for John C. Calhoun, a secessionist and slave owner who also was vice president of the United States.
The school has requested authority from the state General Assembly to change the name of Tillman Hall, named for former Gov. Ben Tillman, who committed acts of racial terror.
The building’s name is protected by the SC Heritage Act that requires a two-thirds vote from the Legislature to make changes to any historical monuments.
Adrian Wilson, a Clemson senior and one of the march’s organizers, said the protesters want to call attention to the buildings on Clemson’s campus named for historical figures who promoted white supremacy and the subjugation of Black people.
“For me, it’s about what I can do to make a small change and what I can do to inform and educate people,” Wilson said before the march. “I felt like I needed to do my part to make sure these people aren’t honoring these people who did horrendous things in our history.”