Charles Christopher Fishburn, 1918 – 2003
“He went any distance to see things done right,” says 92-year-old Rollins Edwards of his nephew Charles Christopher Fishburn.
Fishburn, born in 1918 in Pigeon Bay, the youngest of six children, spent his life focused on his family and making sure his people were treated right.
“He had good common sense,” says Edwards, “but he also had quite a temper. You couldn’t talk him down.”
That temper, however, was always focused on righting wrongs.
Never having graduated from high school, Fishburn taught himself to read according to his daughter Beverly F. Emanuel. And he really educated his children.
He had four daughters – Alethea born in 1942; a full-term child who died in childbirth; Sandra (named after the earth for good luck), born in 1943, who died in a car accident at age 43; Beverly, born in 1945; and Deloris, born in 1954, a full-term child who also died in childbirth.
Sandra and Beverly both graduated from college. Each generation built on what he started. His grandson is a Ph.D.
His family, says Edwards, never wanted for anything.
After the Navy and his marriage to Dorothy (for 60 years), he worked at the Navy Yard until he retired. This gave him enough job security that he could stand up for his beliefs and help others without fear of losing his job. And he did.
President of the NAACP for 25 years, Fishburn fought for justice.
In the late 1940s, he registered people to vote. “In order for a black person to register to vote,” explains Edwards, “they had to be able to recite the Constitution.”
Fishburn helped many find jobs in areas where black people hadn’t been able to get work. He helped Edwards’ campaign for county council.
He took part in every demonstration he could find because, says Edwards, “whatever he believed in he stood up for it.”
Emanuel tells the story of football lights at the then all black Alston High School: “The PTO raised money for football lights – the parents worked hard to get the lights. But when they turned the money into the district, it took the money and used it at a white high school and wanted us to have Summerville High School’s old lights...
“He just would not accept those old lights.”
He went right up to the state level, tells Emanuel, and in the end, Alston got new lights.
“He stood up for what was right,” she says.
She tells of the Ku Klux Klan marching down the streets in Summerville, which happened often. “They would not come as far as our house [W. 2nd North St.] because they knew my daddy and others were armed … there would be no crosses burned on our lawns.
“I remember my mother had a new car and at that time blacks were not allowed to have new cars, but my dad fought so she had a new car. They charged us [blacks] more than white people. If you were going downtown in a new car you were going to be stopped.”
“And then the Freedom Riders came to town,” chuckles Edwards.
He tells of Fishburn’s support for them and how he made every effort to get to Charleston to go to jail with them. “We all went to Charleston and tried to get arrested but they told us there was no room at the jail.”
When the Orangeburg Massacre happened in 1968, Fishburn and Edwards tried to get to Orangeburg.
“The town was shut down and the police would not let us in. So Chris turned around and parked the car and we went in and came out through the woods. When we came out we couldn’t find the car,” Edwards laughs. “We spent hours looking for it, tramping through the darn snake-infested swamp!”
He went to the March on Washington in 1963 and heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak.
“And when I was at North Carolina A & T, I participated in a 1963 demonstration and he supported me in that,” adds Emanuel.
“He gave a lot of his life for me and my sister,” she says. “He helped my mom go back to school to be a nurse. Both my sister [Sandra] and I and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren have master’s degrees plus.
“I remember him leaving the house one day and I was playing with ABC blocks and he said to me, ‘By the time I get back you’d better know the alphabet’ and I did.
“When we went to college he paid the whole year so there was no flunking out, no coming home.”
Emanuel became a school principal and Assistant Superintendent of Dorchester District 4 prior to becoming the state education representative in a school district. She says she gives thanks to her parents for their sacrifices.
Growing up in Summerville was okay, she says, because her daddy didn’t allow anyone to say anything to them. But it was a time of segregation. She remembers there were two movie theaters – one for whites and one for blacks.
“My daddy always made us feel rich,” Emanuel recalls. “I remember one time we were sitting in the car outside the parts store and a white boy in the car next to us called me a [N-word] and I just looked at him and said, ‘You the one that’s poor’ because my daddy gave us a strong sense of self … we could do anything.”
She says they could go to any college they wanted except in the state of South Carolina. “We needed to go out of state and meet new people,” she explains, that was what her father wanted.
Emanuel says her father was a hard worker and excellent provider and “he became a very good husband … it was all about his family.
“No one would put him [or his family] down.”
“When he was in the service he would get called names and his mother wrote him a letter telling him to ‘be patient…things will change’”
“But if he was called a name,” added Edwards, “he was likely to fight first, talk later. As he got older, though, he matured and was not so much of a hot head.”
“I remember a big fight at the jailhouse,” adds Emanuel, “my aunt was accused of stealing and I saw daddy fighting with a cop.”
“There were never any charges filed,” adds Edwards, “because Chris stood up to them.”
Fishburn also, almost single-handedly, reclaimed the Hillcrest Cemetery that had been allowed to become overgrown melding with the woods.
“He and some others did the initial cleanup and then daddy maintained it.”
Fishburn was a trustee and on the administrative board of his church – Wesley United Methodist – and was a Master Mason. He loved hunting and fishing.
“He was always there when anyone needed him,” says Edwards..