By ELLE JOHNSON, ZACH SWEAT, CORINNE MCGRATH, LEE WARDLAW, AUSTIN POWELL, KENNA COE, MIAH NOWICKI, GENNA CONTINO, HAYDEN BLAKENEY and LOGAN CHERRY.
President Trump arrived at Benedict College Friday as several hundred protesters and supporters verbally clashed at the college’s main entrance, showing their allegiance by sporting “Make America Great Again” apparel and accessories and waving custom-made “Dump Trump” signs.
Trump came to Columbia to give the keynote address speech at the 2019 Second Step Criminal Justice Forum.
“I’m out here to use my voice and show that I don’t support Trump and as a student at Benedict we are not okay with him being here,” said Keishay Swygert, a freshman at the historically black Columbia campus. “We didn’t agree to do that.”
“I drove up here specifically to protest this event,” said Benedict alumni Shawn Torres from Aiken. “Personally, I feel like he should not be here.”
Wil Lane was prominent among Trump supporters waving his Trump 2020 flag right in the faces of protestors. It sparked face-to-face arguments among the two groups, with one protestor using a megaphone to yell into his ear. SC women for Trump also yelled their support for the president’s re-election bid.
While Trump supporters waited at the entrance, Elaine Cooper, a protest march organizer, made her way down Harden Street with dozens of other protestors to come face-to-face with Trump supporters. There was a heavy police presence in the closed off street in front of the historically black campus, but officers allowed demonstrators to confront each other face-to-face to debate issues.
Cooper said her activism has made her and her husband the target of threats.
“I got a great deal of texts from this one person sending me racist crap about Obama. Then my husband picked up my phone at 4:30 this morning. He said to my husband, ‘We know what you look like. We are targeting you. See you tomorrow.’”
Columbia native Bethany Vale brought her 12-year-old daughter Sky Vale to the anti-Trump protest that began at the office of Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker of New Jersey.
“We wanted to give Donald Trump the welcome that he deserves,” Vale said. “We don’t approve of the job he’s doing. We don’t approve of him as a person.”
Vale’s daughter agreed. “My dream president would be loyal to the American people. She would know that everyone should be respected, wouldn’t be racist or sexist, or any of the qualities that our president possesses.”
Steven Budget, a 20-year-old man from Fayetteville, North Carolina, was one of a few black Trump supporters who came to Benedict to support the president. Budget sat with another supporter and watched the protests from the sidewalk.
“Everybody just needs to give him a chance,” Budget said of Trump. “Everyone who is saying “Impeach Trump!” clearly have not done any research at all.”
Budget was approached by HBCU students who hugged him, but also gave him a hard time for his beliefs.
“If that’s how they feel, that’s how they feel. They have their ideas, I have mine.”
Warren Zimmer, 75, came to the protest for his four grandchildren.
“I feel both anger and sadness, both of them incredibly deep, for my grandchildren and all of those coming with them that they have to live in a country, even if he were to be disposed tomorrow, that bears his imprint.”
Russell Keller, a 64-year-old veteran from Indian Land, led some of the chants at the protest. Keller said he believes Trump is a traitor.
“Dump Trump! Trump is a traitor,” Keller said. “No more Trump!”
“I think that Donald Trump fits all the criteria of a fascist,” Columbia resident Allen Mudd said. “We do not like anything that Donald Trump has done. I don’t like him. I don’t like Republicans. I think that Donald Trump shows very clearly what the Republican Party is at its core.”
Claire McConaughey, a Trump supporter also from Indian Land, said, “This is a perfect place for him to come and speak about justice, he’s been a strong supporter and done a lot.”
McConaughey believes that Trump will win the 2020 presidential election by a wide margin. One of those reasons is because she thinks that the Democratic Party is not as unified as it once was under former President Barack Obama. “They don’t have a preferred candidate at this point and it’s very disjointed,” she said.
While there was a lot of emotion at Benedict College, the protests remained peaceful throughout Trump’s visit. Protests continued as Donald Trump delivered his speech to the 300 people in attendance and as he headed back to Washington.
Ten Democratic presidential candidates will be at Benedict College Saturday and Sunday for the continuation of the 2109 Second Step Presidential Justice Forum.
Benedict College was founded in 1870 after the Civil War on the site of an 80-acre plantation. Bathsheba A. Benedict, serving with the Baptist Home Mission Society, bought the property with the intention of educating newly-freed slaves. It is located across the street from another private HBCU, Allen University, which is operated by the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Over 100 Trump supporters stood outside of Benedict College to welcome the president. Credit: Kenna Coe
Over 50 anti-Trump supporters gathered at Cory Booker’s office in Columbia. The group marched to Benedict College to protest. Credit: Kenna Coe
Bethany Vale and her daughter, Sky Vale, created orange signs with feathers for the anti-Trump rally. They said they were here to give Trump “the welcome that he deserves.” Credit: Kenna Coe
Russell Keller and Warren Zimmer from Columbia brought handmade signs to the anti-Trump protest. Zimmer was there to support the future he wants for his grandchildren. Credit: Kenna Coe
Gary Voltor was leading chants at the anti-Trump rally. Voltor said “When Democracy is under attack, what do we do?” and the crowd answered “Stand up! Fight back!” Credit: Kenna Coe
Supporters of President Trump, one sporting a Make America Great Again hat, were on hand Friday when the President arrived at Benedict College. Credit: Hayden Blakeney