Another Special Life in Christ
These testimony lives are not stories of "role models". Jesus is the
These are lives wonderfully touched & changed by Jesus!
He was born in 1908 in Saluda, S. C. He finished
seminary and became a Methodist minister in about 1940. Therefore, I presume that he became a
believer at a young age...see near the end of the below story. His burial memorial is HERE. His context of segregated times (he lived in a predominantly white area of S. C.), HERE.
News Columnist, The State newspaper, Columbia, S. C., 4/4/2005
White man struggled to bring books to poor blacks: He’s not in the
history books. But he ought to be. Using donated books, mill worker opened libraries in rural areas
Willie Lee Buffington, a poor white millworker
from Saluda, started out with a dime and a prayer. And he worked a miracle that touched
His miracle was this: in the 1930s, 1940s and
1950s, Buffington helped equip more than 100 libraries for black people in poor communities
in rural South Carolina and Georgia.
By getting people across America to donate some
200,000 books over 30 years, he created a unique chain of backwoods libraries for people who
had little or nothing to read. They were called the Faith Cabin Libraries — faith because
they were built on faith, cabins, because many were built out of logs.
“He’s a phenomenon,” said Dan Lee, a Lander
University librarian who “discovered” Buffington while a student at the University of South
Carolina in the 1980s. Lee wrote some papers on Buffington. But outside academic circles,
Buffington — who died virtually unnoticed in 1988 in Saluda — has been unknown in modern
Now, however, a new trove of material on
Buffington will soon be available to the public at the University of South Carolina
Caroliniana Library, a major depository for state history.
Archivists are processing papers given by Bobby
Buffington, Buffington’s 45-year-old grandson, a Columbia lawyer. His gift included thousands
of documents of Faith Cabin papers.
Willie Lee Buffington’s story is not just a story
of learning. It’s a story of how love can transform. A kindly black school teacher, Euriah
Simpkins, encouraged Buffington as a child to read and go to college. Buffington responded by
dedicating part of his life building libraries for impoverished blacks.
Historians agree it took courage to do what
Buffington did. It was a time when most South Carolina whites believed blacks were not worth
educating, when the Ku Klux Klan was a state power, when laws kept blacks out of libraries
and when lynching blacks was widely accepted.
Buffington’s daughter, Ethel Brown, 70, of Saluda,
said her father sometimes was threatened by whites. One white acquaintance said he’d rather
have his son in the penitentiary than working with blacks as Buffington did, said
She is still amazed at what her father...a
book-lover who used to go to sleep reading a book...managed to do.
“You think of philanthropists doing something like
this. But my dad grew up in a poor rural family. If he’d had lots of money, you’d expect
this. But all he had was a dream,” said Brown.
“He really didn’t have a whole lot more than the
people he was trying to help.”
ENTER AN ANGEL
Willie Lee Buffington was born in 1908 in Saluda,
the son of a poor farmer. In his youth, the family often went without meat or
His grandmother often read the Bible to him,
saying, “Trust in God and He will help you.”
When Buffington was nine, he was making mud pies
by the side of the road. When one wouldn’t hold together, he began to cry.
Simpkins, a black school teacher was passing by
and gently told him to “be a man.” Simpkins and young Buffington became lifelong friends.
Simpkins gave the white boy books to read and encouraged him to go to college and become a
In 1931, while working as a mill worker in
Edgefield, Buffington attended the dedication of Simpkins’ new black school in Saluda. It had
been built with money from a Northern philanthropist.
Buffington was shocked. The school had no books.
“It was unthinkable that a school should not have a few books,” he later
Returning home, he had an inspiration. He picked
the names of five ministers out of a Sunday School publication and wrote them letters asking
for a book. He used his last dime at the time (stamps were two cents each) to post the
“The Negroes have no books,” he wrote. “Good books
will help them more than anything else. I’m going to start a library for them. Could you send
me a book for it, or if you have none to send, then please give me a stamp so I can write to
He never heard from four of the ministers. But two
months later, he got a letter from the Rev. L. H. King of St. Mark’s Methodist Church in New
York, in the heart of Harlem. King sent 1,000 books that his congregation had
Finding themselves with more books than the new
school could handle, Buffington and Simpkins called a community meeting to see if local
blacks wanted to build a library. The answer was yes.
In a matter of months, with blacks providing the
labor, and black and white donors providing trees, they built a library near Saluda. It was
18 feet by 22 feet and had a rock chimney. People used barrels for chairs and read by the
light of kerosene lamps. The closest electric power was five miles away.
A black woman suggested they name it “Faith Cabin
Library” because when they began, they had nothing to go on but faith.
A small magazine wrote a story about the Faith
Cabin. Its readers sent enough books to start another library in Ridge Spring, about 10 miles
south of Saluda. Over the next 20 years, religious magazines and even mainstream publications
such as Reader’s Digest wrote about the Faith Cabin Libraries. The State newspaper, so far as
is known, reported on Buffington only once.
On May 1, 1933, five months after the first Faith
Cabin was built, The State published a story on its editorial page about a “young white man”
who was showing “goodwill towards his Negro neighbors.” The State said approvingly,
“Inter-racial relations would improve far faster in South Carolina if there were more Willie
The publicity helped. Each time an article
appeared, people sent Buffington more books.
Undaunted by the flood of books, Buffington took
on the unofficial mission of creating more libraries, continuing into the
“His vision expanded,” said librarian
Dozens of groups across the country supported his
libraries. They included Dartmouth College students in New Hampshire, a Kiwanis Club in
California and an interfaith group in Iowa City.
OUT ON A LIMB
Buffington was a rebel against his era’s
entrenched racial attitudes.
“It was just considered something you didn’t do,”
said University of South Carolina historian and S.C. native Dan Carter. Many whites believed
that educating blacks “would spoil a good field hand,” said Carter.
In 1930, the year before Buffington began his
campaign, U.S. Sen. Cole Blease, D-S.C., ran his re-election campaign partially on the
platform of lynching blacks. In July 1930, the Charleston News & Courier ran a front-page
editorial saying that if Blease were elected, it would be an endorsement of lynching. Blease
lost — but only barely to a newcomer named Jimmy Byrnes.
In 1932, South Carolina’s most prominent white
journalist, W.W. Ball, wrote a book about South Carolina, “The State That
In it, Ball noted that in South Carolina in the
1930 census, whites outnumbered blacks. But, Ball wrote, “We still have too many Negroes. ...
the state needs more white people.”
In 1933, Strom Thurmond, D-S.C., then in his first
years as a state senator, introduced a bill to prohibit blacks from working in even menial
jobs in state office buildings.
Bob Williams, retired professor of libraries and
information science at the University of South Carolina, said Buffington is a “forgotten
hero” for reaching out to book-starved, underprivileged African-Americans in that
In the 1930s, most rural S.C. counties had no
libraries for either blacks or whites. Only two public library systems — in Columbia and
Charleston — offered any services at all for blacks.
“It was a tremendously worthwhile thing for him to
do. It filled a tremendous gap,” said Williams.
As he brought books to poor black communities,
Buffington transformed himself.
It wasn’t until after he created the first library
that he graduated from Edgefield High School, at the same time raising a family and working
in a textile mill.
Eventually, he put himself through Furman College
(class of 1938), becoming the first person in his family to get a college degree. He entered
seminary, becoming a Methodist minister.
All the while, he worked part-time jobs to support
his family. For two years in the 1940s, he taught at Columbia’s Benedict College. Then he
taught at Paine College in Augusta, also an historically black college, where he stayed until
his retirement in the 1970s.
Throughout this time, Buffington kept establishing
libraries — about 30 in South Carolina and 70 in Georgia — and getting new books for existing
libraries. His mentor Simpkins had died in the 1940s.
In the 1960s, Congress passed civil rights laws,
forcing South Carolina whites to open public libraries to blacks. The state had slowly begun
establishing second-rate branch libraries for blacks during the 1950s.
In the 1970s, the Faith Cabin Libraries went out
of business. They were no longer needed. Today, few traces of them remain.
In his day, Buffington was asked why he decided to
dedicate his life to helping blacks.
First, there was the childhood experience of being
exposed to a caring mentor, Simpkins.
Second, Buffington once wrote, he had been walking
the streets of Edgefield ...then a staunchly segregationist town...when a black child saw him
and ran screaming with fright. The idea that just being white could scare a black made him
want to help blacks, he said.
Finally, as a youth, he heard a preacher named
John Lake give a sermon about going all the way to China to help the
“I then resolved that if John Lake could go to
China, I could serve at home,” he said.
(Much of this story was reported from materials in
the Buffington files at the University of South Carolina Caroliniana Library. Papers by Dan
Lee, Tamara Powell, and Louise Carr were especially helpful, as were various magazine
articles written about Buffington in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. For more information, call
Caroliniana Library at 803-777-3132.)
***give me your comments about this
(posted 4 April 2005; links added 29 July 2015)
You have just read a very brief example of the
powerful, supernatural transformation of a person's life which is possible through the
acceptance of Jesus as your savior. Are you tired of life as it now is for you? He will
accept you just as you are right this second! Consider accepting Jesus now