Boeing donates $1.5M to Allen University civil debate hall, Emanuel memorial project | Columbia Business

Catrina P. Smith

COLUMBIA — Airplane maker Boeing Co. gave $1.5 million on Wednesday to a historically black university in South Carolina’s capital to help forward plans for a civil debate institute and memorial to the nine people killed at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Allen University announced in January it was renovating the former Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital next to campus, once the only medical facility in Columbia to treat Black residents. 

Fundraising continues for the project expected to be completed at the end of 2021. Boeing’s donation means the college has secured commitments for more than half of the total estimated cost of $11 million, said Allen University President Ernest McNealey.  

The centerpiece of the project will be a newly constructed performance annex to host televised debates focused on civility. It will include a memorial to the nine victims gunned down following a Bible study at Emanuel AME in 2015 by an avowed white supremacist. 

“Engaging in civil discourse is essential to our democracy and we are being tested like never before,” said Boeing CEO David Calhoun.

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Calhoun said civility is a choice that requires skills, conviction and practice, something the Boeing Institute On Civility At Allen University will provide. Boeing shares the values of inclusion and equity fought for by students at Allen and its neighbor, Benedict College, during the civil rights era.

The aerospace giant has been on a gifting spree. It has committed to $10.6 million in donations to nonprofits with missions related to equity and social justice nationwide, including a $1 million contribution to the International African American Museum being built in downtown Charleston. It also upped its investment in South Carolina’s veteran community, saying it is giving $765,000 to veteran-related organizations in the state.

Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital renovation

Allen University broke ground  Jan. 21, 2020, on a renovation and expansion of the historic Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital building. The hospital, which served African Americans in Columbia during the Jim Crow era of segregation will house an institute encouraging civil debate. File/Jessica Holdman/Staff

It’s also not the first time the company has supported Allen University. In 2015, it gave $350,000 to revitalize the Chapelle Auditorium on campus, which once housed discussions surrounding the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared segregated schools illegal. It was a lawsuit from rural South Carolina that arrived first to the nation’s high court and was wrapped into four other cases that became known as Brown v. Board of Education.  

Calhoun said Boeing is hopeful this latest donation “will have a lasting impact on the state and country for generations to come.

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“Boeing is in your corner,” he added.

It was McNealey’s idea to memorialize the nine victims massacred at Emanuel AME to create “a platform where people can come express views in a civil manner” rather than with violence, said Dub Taylor, the university’s vice president for institutional advancement. 

Three of the nine who were murdered at the historic church — state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the Rev. Daniel Simmons and Tywanza Sanders — were Allen alumni.

Allen also received a $500,000 contribution from the Gregory B. Levett Sr. Family Foundation to bring an education project back to the school as part of the hospital project, Taylor said.

Dr. Spann in Good Samaritan Waverly Hospital with staff

Dr. Cyril O. Spann (second from right), South Carolina’s first trained black surgeon, and his staff at the Good Samaritan-Waverly Hospital. File/Catherine Bruce/Provided

When complete, the education program will be housed on the hospital building’s first floor. The school’s theology program will move to the third floor with plans for adding a doctoral degree to its curriculum.

The Institute of Civility will be housed in the remaining space with a 200-seat auditorium for debates and classroom space where participants can earn a certificate in civil discourse. And a museum to the hospital will be housed in the former entrance.

The institute could bring more of a national and international audience to Allen University. McNealy said school officials are confident that adding the education program could help raise enrollment from its current 710 students to 1,200.

The former hospital at 2204 Hampton St. operated from 1952 to 1973. When the integrated Richland Memorial Hospital opened, Good Samaritan-Waverly, known as “Good Sam,” was unable to compete and closed shortly afterward.

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