Bea Rivers is a life time community activist
by Laura Stone | July 5, 2018 4:11 pm
Last Updated: July 5, 2018 at 3:22 pm
Retiree Bea Rivers has led an exciting life, and she still stays busy as an octogenarian, involving herself in the community as much as she can.
Rivers grew up in Summerton, and her first foray into community activism came in 1949. When she was 13, her family was the second family to sign the original equalization of schools petition, and her signature was on the document, too.
As the Briggs vs. Elliot case progressed, and many of the original petitioners were forced to leave Summerton and Clarendon County, Rivers’ family stayed. Her father owned his own property and had income independent of an employed job. While he did work as a janitor with one of the white schools until 1955, he also had a small farm and a sugar cane mill, and he was a blacksmith.
When Rivers graduated from Scott’s Branch High School, she followed through on her plans to move to Washington D.C., getting on the bus the day after graduation. She attended Temple Business School in D.C., earning an associate’s degree in business in 1956.
Armed with her new degree, Rivers took a position with the federal government in 1957 and spent the next 32 years in government service in various positions. She began as a clerk typist with the Department of Labor and was soon promoted to secretary. Taking a better position, Rivers moved to the Commerce Department as a secretary.
Within a year and a half, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) contacted her with a request that she apply for a job. She began as a secretary with the EEOC and ended up working as special assistant to one of the commissioners and later as special assistant to two different commissioners.
While there, Rivers saw every president, beginning with Harry S. Truman and ending with William Clinton, even attending a Clinton’s inaugural ball and a party whose guest list included Richard Nixon. While she was no longer working with the EEOC at the time, Rivers also met Barak Obama while he campaigned prior to his presidency.
When the commissioner at the EEOC retired, Rivers became an equal opportunity specialist. She was promoted to chief of the state local branch.
“We funded fair employment practice agencies throughout the country to handle employment discrimination cases,” said Rivers. As part of her job, she interfaced with tribal employment rights offices on Native American reservations. She visited their offices to assess needs and she coordinated an annual conference in Denver for the tribal employment rights offices, as well as an annual conference for other state and local agencies.
During her time with the EEOC, Rivers attended the University of the District of Columbia and earned a Bachelor of Science in Special Education and Reading. However, Rivers never intended to teach. She had a strong desire to teach kids to read when she retired. She didn’t wait, though. She began working with neighborhood schools, assisting at-need children who were struggling with reading.
Rivers took early retirement from the EEOC in 1988, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1990, she moved her mother to D.C. In 1991, Rivers accepted a part-time position with the CIA. Rivers traveled to high schools, colleges and universities across the nation to recruit Native American students to work for the CIA.
In 1994, Rivers retired again, and in 1995, she moved her mother back to Summerton. As they still owned their family home, Rivers renovated, and they moved in.
After the documentary With All Deliberate Speed was released in 2004, Rivers, who had been in the movie about the Briggs vs. Elliot case, was invited to a reception in D.C. where she met Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. “He was a very personable man, very easy to talk to,” said Rivers.
While she is no longer working in a paid position, Rivers has remained active in the community.
“They call me a community activist. I call me a community busy-body. I’m very concerned with everything that happens in our community, and I think everybody should be concerned about it. I think everybody should do what they can do to try to make life better for somebody. That’s what I’ve been trying to do since I came back home,” said Rivers.
She has been active with the Habitat for Humanity Board, the Chamber of Commerce, the Cypress Foundation, and the Voter Education Project. As a board member of the Briggs Delane Pearson Foundation in Columbia, Rivers helped kids learn to read during the board-sponsored afternoon tutoring sessions.
In addition, for some years, Rivers continued to volunteer once per week to work with students in the local schools who needed reading help. Rivers continues to mentor a boy at the local elementary school.
She is currently active in the Scott’s Branch High Alumni Association, which offers scholarships each year. Each student who applies and qualifies gets a portion of the Alumni Association’s scholarship money.
Rivers is also on the board of the Summerton Community Action Group, which is working for recognition for each petition signer associated with the Briggs vs. Elliot case. The group hopes to place historical markers at each school and church location involved and has already received $4,200 from the Clarendon County Council to fund the historical map and brochure.
“We want everybody to be involved. If they want to come in, then they can come. They’re all welcome,” said Rivers.
On June 26, Rivers went to Clemson University to speak about the Briggs vs Elliot case at an event associated with the Call Me MISTER program. According to Clemson’s website, “The mission of the Call Me MISTER® (acronym for Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models) Initiative is to increase the pool of available teachers from a broader more diverse background particularly among the State’s lowest performing elementary schools. Student participants are largely selected from among underserved, socio-economically disadvantaged and educationally at-risk communities.”
Outside of her community involvement, Rivers likes to travel, although she doesn’t travel as much as she used to. Her family remains important, and of her 12 siblings, three sisters and two brothers are still living.
Rivers enjoys cooking and she spends time with family and friends as much as possible. As she keeps herself busy with family and community, she states she no longer makes time for hobbies.
According to Rivers, her retirement is her favorite part of life, as she can now focus on what interests her, what she finds compelling, rather than what she must do to earn a living.
“Everybody says to me ‘You are really failing retirement,’” says Rivers. “But I’ve enjoyed my life. I’m having a great life.”