Like many Southerners of a certain age, William E. "Bill" Dufford, 91, grew up in the Jim Crow era realizing only gradually that there was something not fair or just about segregation.
His journey "from segregationist to integrationist" is at the heart of his memoir titled "My Tour through the Asylum: A Southern Integrationist's Memoir."
The title, Dufford explains, is taken from James L. Petrigru's statement to Benjamin F. Perry in 1860: "South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum."
The memoir covers the years 1926 through 2016 and is divided into three parts, the first and last written by Dufford.
In the first section, essentially an early biography, Dufford writes about his progression from an unexamined acceptance of the separation of the races to a realization of the wrongness of the institution of segregation. He saw images on TV of peaceful civil rights demonstrators attacked by police dogs and police with fire hoses, witnessed Ku Klux Klan rallies and was appalled when his own Lutheran Church refused to accept black members. He was changed by his life experiences.
The second section, written by Aida Rogers, covers 1969 to 1976 and includes Dufford's year as principal of Sumter High School, 1969-70, when he was recruited by Sumter School District 17 Superintendent L.C. "Currie" McArthur to help the schools integrate.
After having served as teacher, coach and principal at several Lowcountry schools with great success, Dufford served at Sumter High for the academic year 1969-70. With the late Dr. Earl Vaughn, he oversaw the bringing together of the formerly black Lincoln High School and the formerly white Sumter High.
Along the way, Dufford found the students generally more receptive to integration than their parents, government officials and even the school board.
Working closely with the student councils of the two high schools, Dufford and Vaughn charged the students to make decisions vital to their successful union - school colors, official name, mascot. Rogers writes "Decisions that might have taken months for (the school) board of elected officials to make were handled easily by a group of teens."
Many of the events and people of the so-called Dufford year will be familiar to Sumterites.
While other circumstances outlined in the second section led Dufford to resign, Rogers also presents his many accomplishments and lifelong friendships. She quotes Dufford's assessment of his greatest achievement at Sumter High: "the advance in human understandings among students. There was developed the beginning of a healthy respect for one another as a person and understanding for those who are different. Admittedly, this was only the beginning stage, but progress was evident."
Through his lifelong work, Dufford formed lasting relationships across generations, including many whose names will be recognized - Pat Conroy, Steve Satterfield, Hayes Mizell, John Spratt, Rep. Jim Clyburn, Allen Johnson, Leighton Cubbage, Walter McRackan and more.
Dufford, Rogers and Salley McInerney write movingly about Dufford's work and accomplishments, pulling no punches.
Interspersed throughout the book are comments from Dufford's friends and former students, offering insight into the man and his philosophy.
Rogers and McInerney sum up many of Dufford's achievements, as well as those of his former students.
"During his 40 years in public education and into retirement, colleagues and students learned from him before launching or continuing their own remarkable careers," they write.
Rogers, a writer for the University of South Carolina Honors College, and McInerney, a columnist for The State newspaper, also report a conversation with Dufford as he considered his legacy.
"What I want people to remember," he said, "is we need to continue to help out those who are left out or left behind."
Dufford also quoted philosopher Bertrand Russell: "One must care about a world one will never see."
"My Life through the Asylum: A Southern Integrationist's Memoir" is an interesting, well-written book that offers much food for thought as it illuminates an important period in South Carolina's history.
Published by the University of South Carolina Press, Dufford's memoir is filled with photographs and rich memories of his big life.