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Former campers react to historical marker recognition of oldest Black camps in South Carolina

Three historical Black camps in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties were given historical markers on Thursday.

ORANGEBURG COUNTY, S.C. — Alvin Lark Jr. was a former camper at the New Farmers of America Camp in 1960, one of three camps in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties recognized with historical markers on Thursday.

The Farmers Camp helped prepare Black youth for rural leadership roles and served as a recreational and educational center.

“It was a great experience. I learned all my public speaking there. I learned how to be sure of myself and confident in myself because my ag teacher was Mr. Boston Johnson and he instilled in me great leadership skills," said Lark.

At the time, schools were separate. Lark said he looked forward to spending the week at camp and meeting other Black youth across the state. He sought mentorship from his teacher at the time, Boston Johnson, and went on to have his own teaching career.

“I just think that having had that experience has really molded and made me who I am today and I’m forever grateful for Boston Johnson for instilling in me who I am, and who I can become," he said.

Other sites recognized were the New Homemakers Camp of America and Camp Daniels. According to the marker, the Mattie E. Pegues Homemakers camp is a 32-acre camp for recreation, education, and demonstrations. When it opened, it had 18 buildings and a pond for fishing and swimming. Hundreds of students from across the state would come to visit.

Jessie Shannon Cauthen attended Camp Daniels through most of her adolescent years and says she learned everything from public speaking to fashion.

At the time, it was the only 4-H camp for African Americans in the state.

“Children should really appreciate, they should really appreciate the renewing of the facility because it’s quite different and it’s so much better, but yet and still we had a chance to learn an awful lot as it was," said Cauthen.

Lark said his hope is today's youth will visit and appreciate the campsites.

“I just wish that they would stop at the site and not pass the site. If they would just stop and read and see how significant these markers are," said Lark.

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