South Carolina Senator and Reverend Clemente Pickney was forever solidified in the grounds of The Clemente Pickney Memorial Amazing Grace Park. A place of refuge and celebration for all those who visit his hometown of Marion County, for children and adults alike, the grounds of the park will represent more than just an afternoon’s stroll, but also a memory of the kind soul that was, and always will be, a family man who raised two beautiful daughters—Clemente Pinckney.
This celebration was indeed a celebration of a life well-lived, but it was also a time of reflection. Clemente Pickney was tragically taken from us by an evil man whose name shall not bear these pages. But through darkness, we oftentimes see light; the person who was is now a memory that will always remain in the hearts of the people he touched. He was not only a state senator, but also a reverend, and his life was cut short in the temple where he sought sanctuary from the evils of the world, and where many gathered to hear his words of hope and serenity, words of a better future that he believed would come to pass with time. The blessings that he brought upon those whom he interacted with will be a treasure to their progeny, and the impact that his life had on those people will forever trickle down throughout time, leaving a trace of him within each of us for millennia.
A large red-brick structure stands tall in the heart of the park, housing an exhibit for the late Clemente Pickney—a second memorial to honor not just the man we believed him to be, but also the man he was. Upon entering the exhibit, the words of the reverend can be heard, his deep and strong, yet calming and comforting voice reverberates throughout the room, imprinting itself in the minds of all who listen. Though no man’s achievements can be fully displayed on a wall, Senator Pickney’s life as a family man, a senator, a reverend, and a kind-spirited person was well-represented through the images and documents which lay encased within the glass shelves of the exhibit.
An exhibit devoted to another renowned Son of Marion, the cousin of the late senator, myself, is located above the senator’s display.
Upon entering the tall, narrow entryway, one is confronted with a chronology of my life, as portrayed in photographs on translucent glass, affixed to a snapshot of my childhood home’s tobacco fields, which I tended to in my early days. As I walked around the exhibit for the first time alongside the governor of South Carolina, Governor McMasters, I could see my accomplishments before my eyes all at one time. For the first time I could not help but realize that I have taken a front-row seat on a ship cruising through history; I recall the summers spent with Nelson Mandela, aiding him in writing personal handwritten letters to the thousands who reached out to him, I recall being the head strategist for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s heated confirmation hearings and having my face appear in the international headlines for my work, and I recall interviewing President Donald J. Trump in the midst of a tumultuous election cycle.
I have been in the presence of the many politicians, celebrities, and everyday people who have had a hand in changing the world; I remember each and every face of every person whom I have had the pleasure of meeting, and this exhibit is a testament to not just myself, but them, as I would not be where I am today without those who encouraged me along the way.
I find it important to take a minute to reflect on my life from time to time. On Saturday morning, as I gazed out into the distance at the tobacco fields, which seemed to stretch to the horizon, a sense of peace washed over me as the leaves rustled in the mild breeze. I paused for a moment to recall my life at the ages of seven, 14, and 20. All that is now was incubated and formed by all that was then. My father and mother, Thelma Howard and James Stirk Williams, are honored in the Howard Stirk Holdings company name. My worldview is based on the ancient tenets of existence passed down from them on my Marion family farm. While I have wandered here and there in life, what becomes clear is that I never left the farm—as it is in me and always within me no matter where I am.
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