Former 4-H campers tell history of Camp Daniels

ELLOREE, S.C. – In honor of Camp Harry E. Daniels’ 72nd anniversary, several people who were involved and attended the camp years ago shared their stories as SC State 1890 Research & Extension dedicated its new Leadership Center on the grounds.

“With everything going on in the 40’s, this was a place black people could come and not worry about anything. But this wasn’t only a safe place for black people, it was a safe place for poor kids because there were a lot of white kids who didn’t have anything that were here also,” said Dr. Louis Whitesides, vice president and executive director for 1890 Research & Extension.

4-H campers arrive at Camp Daniels in 1949.

Camp Daniels was established in 1949 as a permanent camp for South Carolina’s Black 4-H members and later served other underserved youth. It served as tight-knit community that had a positive impact and offered different opportunities to the less fortunate.

Dr. Barbara Williams Jenkins, emeritus dean and professor of the Miller F. Whitaker Library, is one of the original staff members who served a vital role to the camp when it first opened. She was born in Union, South Carolina, and moved to Orangeburg in 1946 when her father became the state supervisor of agricultural extension work.

“Mr. Harry Daniels, the previous supervisor, passed suddenly of a heart attack, and then my father was made state supervisor, and that’s how I got to Orangeburg. I was in the 7th grade when I moved here,” Williams Jenkins said.

Dr. Barbara Williams Jenkins

Her father, E. N. Williams, became an agent in the late 20’s after he graduated from South Carolina State University. As a leader in agricultural extension, her father visited several universities around the country to expand his knowledge on agricultural development and leadership, including Tuskegee University and Prairie View A&M University. He also held annual meetings for his county agents at SC State for professional development.

“During the days of segregation in Union County, when my father was a county agent, in his development and leadership skills, he believed in good communication, fair communication and recent communication. He believed in keeping his farmers up to date,” Williams Jenkins said. “When he moved on as state leader of agricultural extension work, there were numerous development programs that he had to attend.”

While reflecting on her father’s role as the state supervisor for agricultural extension, Williams Jenkins shed some light on the camp’s history. During World War II, there was a 4-H camp in Richland County until Fort Jackson took it over. Once this occurred, state leaders made it a priority to build another camp, resulting in Camp Daniels.

Former 4-H camper George Ulmer

She also recalled when certain features were added to the camp and gave a visual description of how the camp was originally set up.

“After the state leaders bought property here, they built the dam, they stocked the lake with fish, they built the boardwalk in the shape of an H and within that boardwalk was the swimming area. On the other side of the boardwalk were the boat for the boat rides for the campers,” Williams Jenkins said. “On dedication day, which was June 8, 1949, there were eight cabins housed in 240 clusters.

“There were four on one side housing the girls and four on the other side housing the boys, two bath houses, the dining hall was in the center and the following year, the recreation hall was built right on this site. So that’s the beginning of Camp Daniels,” she said.

It took several years to establish all the amenities the camp had, but during that time, there were several local families, including Williams Jenkins’ family, that acted as the caretakers for the camp on the weekends.

“When the clusters would come to camp, there were leadership skills that they could learn. Through communication skills and their learning skills, they experienced interpersonal relationships by forming friendships, and many of them formed friendships for life,” she said.

There were many activities available to the campers during that time. They competed in ball games, swimming activities and in boat races. 4-H youth development was also a very important part of the camp’s mission and many took those same skills that they honed at camp with them to college. Some of the students who were positively impacted became home demonstration and farm agents, some even became members of the 4-H club.

“The camp is widely known, and it touched so many of our young people, which it was supposed to do. It did not lose its mission. For those years from 1949 to 1965, when integration occurred, the camp served thousands of young people,” Williams Jenkins said.

Williams Jenkins was invited to share that history as part of the new Leadership Center’s opening.

“This helped our African American youth to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Even though it started out for African American youth, it’s for all youth now. As long as you keep the mission of helping the youth of this state, then we’re all right,” Williams Jenkins said.

George Ulmer, 75, also remembered when he went Camp Daniels in 1955 when he was 10 years old. Ulmer grew up on a farm in the small community of Four Holes, South Carolina, near Elloree.

“We lived on a farm where we had to pick cotton, break corn and do some of the refinery on the farm and chores … You’d be lucky to get out of the fields,” Ulmer said. “I was just so happy to go someplace other than church.”

Ulmer said he enjoyed the few times he was able to go to Camp Daniels. He was only able to attend the camp for two to three years because of his heavy workload on the farm. So, being able to go to camp was like a luxury for him.

He talked about what it was like to be around the other campers and how he was able to form friendships while he was there.

“Certain times of the evening, the girls and boys might get together as one group and play some records and dance. They had a little recreational area where you could get in there and they would play soul music. During the day, we did arts and crafts, and we also got time to swim in the lake,” Ulmer said.

As he walked through the newly constructed Leadership Center, Ulmer pointed to historical photos mounted on the walls, making connections to them, and talking about certain activities he participated in when he was at the camp. One year while attending camp, he won the state tractor driving contest in which campers were challenged to drive a tractor through markers without hitting any boundaries and pull a trailer while being timed.

“The camp made me think more about what I wanted to do in life — in other words, I didn’t want to pick cotton all my life. So, I decided, I need to go to school. I ended up majoring in agriculture at SC State,” Ulmer said. “It made me interested in becoming something more than a farm worker.”

After earning his degree in agriculture at SC State, Ulmer taught agriculture for 30 years. During his career, he furthered his education by getting his master’s from Clemson University and his associate degree in engineering from Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical college.

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Sam Watson
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