Meg White is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.
This was back in the late ’70s. I was sitting in my office one day when I got a phone call from a drill sergeant stationed at Fort Jackson up in Columbia, S.C. He said someone from the fort had recommended me as a real estate professional who could help him find a home.
We agreed to meet at my office that afternoon. He was from New Jersey, and from the way he looked, could have been a model in a men’s magazine. He said he wanted to buy a house in Orangeburg, S.C., about 35 miles from the southern border of Columbia.
“Why Orangeburg?” I asked him, thinking it would be a long ride to and from the fort every day.
“My wife’s parents live there, and she wants to be near her mama,” he said.
I thought nothing of it, since being near family is a pretty typical concern for southerners. We agreed to meet on Friday afternoon and he showed up with his wife. That’s when I got my surprise: He was white and she was black.
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Of course, an interracial marriage is not unusual these days. But in the South in the 1970s, it was pretty uncommon. However, that part didn’t make me uncomfortable. What threw me off was this: Normally either the husband or the wife will ride with me in the front seat and the other will sit in the back. But this time, both of them climbed into the backseat. It was only a little awkward, until they got very touchy-feely as we were driving around. Then it was really awkward. I tried to distract them a little by asking questions as we rode around looking at places, but it didn’t do much to cool things off.
We made it through the day just fine, though, and after showing them some houses, it was eventually time to head back to Columbia.
“Hey, can you take that route you were talking about, that I should use to avoid the rush-hour traffic to get to the base in the morning?” the husband asked.
“Sure,” I said, turning toward the road that would take us through the town of Red Bank, in Lexington County.
Now I don’t fear much, but what I saw next made my blood run cold. As we approached a four-way stop in Red Bank, I noticed two telephone poles wrapped in cloth and fashioned into a huge cross, in a big field across the street. Some guy was spraying the cloth with kerosene, or some flammable liquid. There must have been several hundred—though it felt like a couple thousand—Ku Klux Klan men, women, and children, all decked out in Klan regalia. And there I was: a young white male in a new 1976 Buick LeSabre chauffeuring an interracial couple who were making out in my backseat.
We stopped at the stop sign and were met by a big, burly Klansman giving me a real dirty look. Looking up at him and down to the ground I saw a shiny pair of black shoes and gray slacks with a black stripe down the side of his trousers. He was a cop! By now we were getting mean stares from everyone crossing the street in front of my car. I thought I was a dead man.
“Best get out of here, boy!” the burly cop said to me.
He didn’t have to tell me twice. I gunned that Buick out of there, and I haven’t been to Red Bank since. Even though it didn’t start out so well, I did find the couple a lovely home in Orangeburg, where they were readily accepted. As far as I know, they lived happily ever after!
—Sig Buster III, CCIM, GRI, is the president of Sig Buster Commercial Real Estate in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.