Lonnie Hamilton III’s name is finally on the Charleston County Public Service Building, 28 years after Charleston County Council voted 7-1 to name it for the former council chairman.
Time needed to pass, Hamilton said, to ensure that placing his name on the county’s premiere office building on Bridgeview Drive in North Charleston would not offend White people.
Council members then, Hamilton said, weren’t certain that as the Council’s first Black member and its first Black chairman he could survive the attacks of Charleston County politics and not get caught in a scandal that would tarnish his reputation. “There are people out there [trying] to get you every day,” said Hamilton who served 24 years on Council.
During a ceremony in the Council Chambers, Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said he didn’t notice that Hamilton’s name was not physically on the building until Vice Chairwoman Anna B. Johnson brought it to his attention about two months ago. “She was right,” Pryor said. “It was not there. So we are going to right a wrong.”
Johnson said, “Finally, finally, finally we got his name on this building. I want to thank God for keeping you here this long so you can see this day,” she told Hamilton, who turns 95 on Nov. 14. The council members who voted in November 1994 to name the building for Hamilton “lacked the guts” to place his name on the building, she said.
“Everybody knows why it took so long. I don’t need to elaborate,” said Hamilton’s daughter Dr. Kendra Hamilton, an English professor at Presbyterian College in Clinton. At that time, naming a $30 million building for her father might have been perceived as “a step too far,” she said.
Because of the rain Thursday from Tropical Storm Nicole, Pryor narrated a video taken Wednesday of the unveiling of Hamilton’s name across the top of the building.
During the indoor ceremony, Hamilton was reunited with his former Council colleagues, retired anesthesiologist Dr. Charles Wallace and Charleston attorney Andy Savage. Wallace, who served as chairman after Hamilton, said, “I am honored to be here today, and I am honored when we first named this building for him.”
As Savage stepped to the microphone he asked: “Where is Lonnie?” Hamilton quipped: “Tell the truth now.” Savage replied: “It is hard for me. I am a lawyer.” Then his tone turned serious as he thanked Hamilton for helping him and other people in county government integrate the county’s workforce so that Black people weren’t all at the bottom of the wage scale.
After the ceremony, a beaming Hamilton joined his family and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity brothers for a reception in a room near council chambers.
While Hamilton’s name was not on the building it is on a ground-level marquee along Bridgeview Drive in front of the office building. He said Wallace made that possible. In an interview with the City Paper, Hamilton thanked Wallace for that.
The interchange at I-526 and I-26 also bears Hamilton’s name.
The late Charles Wannamaker was the lone no vote against placing Hamilton’s name on the building, according to minutes from the Nov. 1, 1994, meeting. Hamilton said he considered Wannamker a friend, who supported him. But on naming the building for him, Hamilton said, Wannamaker “was a Republican, and the Republican Party dictated how he should act.”
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