Bobby Jolley faced adversity throughout his childhood. One day, he came home to the place where he grew up in the rural south with six siblings, and found his house engulfed in flames because someone decided to burn his family out of the home. Bobby’s mother was a strong-willed person who believed equality should extend to all children, including her own. Bobby’s father died when Bobby was very young, and he learned about what was most important in life —not clothes or cars or even larger homes—but to respect and support the rights of others who face some of these same challenges. Therefore, it is no surprise that Bobby spent 52 years of his life working for the poor and underprivileged. The path Jolley took was clear; he engaged in a life-long fight to support the voiceless, homeless, and powerless by working to ensure all people, regardless of race or gender, enjoyed the same opportunities as many others to experience the “American Dream.”
For Bobby, his path started out in rural Mississippi with a mother who didn’t tolerate any messing around, which was a trait she passed on to her son. Bobby continued along his path fighting the good fight as a frontline soldier in the war on poverty, a fight many soldiers and a few generals have walked away from. What do you say to a man who has made his life’s work that of improving the lives of the poor and disadvantaged? First, you say “Thank you,” and then you honor him for his service and commitment. What type of a man would spend 52 years and more speaking truth to power and not seeking personal gain? That man, and the only man in South Carolina who stood up for the causes he believed in after 52 years of fighting was Bobby Jolley. Bobby Jolley died on April 13, 2020 after a long illness.
In a previous interview with Bobby, we asked why he was still fighting after 52 years? He simply and eloquently stated, “I feel that we need to make sure the works of people like Dr. R.N. Beck, Jerry Keith, Sr., and J.O. Smith were not in vain. I also want to honor the work of people such as Congressman Benny Thompson of Mississippi who gave me my start as an activist.”
From that start, he found his way into an organization called the American Friends Services Committee, which was a group working to improve the lives of the underserved people in this nation. This committee sent Jolley to Florence, South Carolina to set up an office. He worked in that office for three years organizing people and programs to address the needs of the county’s most vulnerable. He spent countless hours traveling many miles each day and night to meet with concerned citizens, government leaders, and elected officials in order to state the case of those who had very limited access. “The first lesson I learned as a community organizer was the art of listening to what people want. I learned you can’t go into a community and just work to get people what you think they need because sometimes those people have been threatened,” said Jolley. He believed activism required listening and creating trust in order to successfully develop a movement. He understood how to achieve this goal because he had been called to communities all over the region to address the concerns of citizens when there were no lines of communication between the powerful and the powerless.
Sometimes his journey would take him to three or more cities in one night and last seven days a week. However, that was the life for a freedom fighter, so sometimes Jolley just pressed forward alone. After his work with the American Friends Service Committee, Jolley opted to stay in Florence and work for the Florence County Office of Economic Opportunity. There, he would spend years developing his skills as a community organizer and addressing issues and concerns that would change the foundation of leadership in the region. He helped to change the color of leadership in the region by making sure that every one he came in contact with registered and voted.
As a frontline fighter and organizer, Jolley challenged the cities, counties, and the state of South Carolina to not only address the basic needs of all citizens but also to provide jobs for people of all colors through inclusive hiring. His position led to Blacks in the region being hired by some of the largest corporation and government agencies in the Pee Dee region. Later Jolley joined the Pee Dee Community Action Partnership, a new agency advocating for those in need in the region. There, he worked under the late Freddie Williams and later under Walter Fleming. But Jolley was quick to tell you that the Pee Dee Community Action Partnership we know today is a far cry from the one he worked for over 30 years ago. He will remind you the job of the Pee Dee Community Action Partnership was to speak out for the underserved. There were no assistance programs for housing, utilities, or food. “It was our job to speak for the poor on issues of fair treatment and fair shares of resources,” stated Jolley. But that would soon change as the organization became a lifeline for families in need and for educating and training young people in the community by providing summer jobs, head start programs, and many other programs to assist thousands of families each year.
Jolley worked with families and young adults to ensure they got the resources they needed to continue to make progress toward their goals. He also pushed young people to consider all options when choosing a career, including training for jobs of the future that did not require a four-year degree. “All of our children shouldn’t go to a four-year college or university as some would be better served with a two-year degree in a field that allows them to live very comfortable lives and support their families,” stated Jolley. He understood and offered sage wisdom by networking with those in our community who understand all of us can’t be doctors, lawyers, or engineers. For Jolley, his work was always about being the voice for the voiceless by taking the opportunity to speak truth in order to become empowered.
At the time of his death, he was a little older and a little wiser, but his mission remained the same. He wished to spend his life working to make this world a better place for us all. “I will fight for all people until the day I die,” Jolley declared.
Pee Dee And South Carolina Leaders Remember Bobby Jolley
Dr. Fred Carter’s Statement Regarding the Passing of Freddie Jolley
“I had the opportunity to meet with Freddie Jolley over the years to discuss the needs of the community. He offered a powerful voice for the poor and the underserved. He also had a strong appreciation for the role that education could play in changing Florence and the Pee Dee for the better. I enjoyed those conversations, just as I enjoyed Freddie’s wit and humor. He’ll be sorely missed, especially by those for whom he fought the hardest.”
Congressman James E. Clyburn (D) SC: Statement Regarding the Passing of Freddie Jolley
“Bobby Jolley’s commitment to justice and equality was total and unequivocal. His absence from the field of engagement in recent years was sorely missed. He will be fondly remembered.”
Pat Gibson Hye-Moore’s Statement Regarding the Passing of Freddie Jolley
Freddie “Bobby” Jolley was a great community activist. During his lifetime he challenged and fought for so many injustices thrust upon people of color. He spoke up when some others were afraid to do so. I send condolences to his family and pray for their strength. GOD has now called Jolley to take his rest and Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
Elder James Williams and LifelinePlus’ Statement Regarding the Passing of Freddie Jolley
We at LIFELINEPLUS, take this opportunity to extend our deepest sympathies to the family of MR. FREDDIE JOLLY. Jolly was a longtime advocate for the disfranchised. He was vocal on a myriad of issues involving Civil and Human Rights. He was one who did not shy away from controversy, but instead if there was a rally or protest against INEQUALITY or DISCRIMINATION, he could be found in the midst. We can now say, without equivocation or reservation that Jolley was a true and brave soldier in the fight for voting, education, social/political, justice and civil rights. The Florence Community will miss the loud and distinguished voice of one of it’s longtime leaders. Farewell our BROTHER. Rest now from your labors.
On the Death of a Legend, Mr. Freddie Bobby Jolley
He was a friend of mine!
Bobby Jolley was a man among men. He stood where others faltered. He was a man of deep faith and conviction. He believed that there was no obstacle that could not be overcome through hard work and perseverance.
To say that he was a civil rights leader is not to capture the essence of his life story. He was a compassionate human being willing to make the sacrifices required so that we can be free. Bobby Jolley had a prophetic vision. He saw in his mind’s eye black council members, school board members, black legislators, and even black congressmen at a time when we were afraid to run for office. He didn’t just talk about his vision but worked it out in election after election.
In 1976 Bobby Jolley joined us in organizing the biggest protest demonstration ever held in South Carolina. This wasn’t an annual commemoration march. It was a protest demonstration to stop white police officers from killing black men.
Bobby organized thousands in the Pee Dee to come to Columbia and “raise hell.” Bobby Jolley was the real deal. He met us in Columbia bringing hundreds of Church buses and vans from the Pee Dee down I-20 to the State House. Over 50,000 people met that day and changed the history of South Carolina. Bobby was never worried about who got the credit. His only concern was whether we got the job done.
He was a real community organizer. He organized rent strikes, welfare rights, tenant rights, voter registration drives, food drives, and many others. He was always on the front line.
Bobby Jolley, Civil rights icon; Freddie Jolley, the peoples champion; Mr. Freddie Bobby Jolley, Pan African statesman.
Of all the accolades that I have desired, there is one that I covet above all the others – that Freddie Bobby Jolley was a friend of mine.
Larry D. Smith
Publisher of The Community Times Newspaper’s Statement Regarding the Passing of Freddie Jolley
This week the Pee Dee and all of South Carolina lost a General in the Civil Rights Army. Bobby Jolley was always on the frontline of the fight for justice and fairness in our community. I first marched with Bobby Jolley during the Conway Movement where my two sons and I joined in the rally to march in the rain to support then NAACP President H.H. Singleton’s efforts to protest the actions of the Conway High Football coach. I later participated in other marches for justice with Bobby Jolley. I learned later Bobby and I, who both lived in South Carolina, had one of the same mentor’s in the late Charles Tisdale, the fiery publisher of The Jackson Advocate in Mississippi – his home state. But what made Bobby Jolley a General was his abilities to lead and stand up for the rights of the poor and underserved people.
You see there are many who talk about service in this and other communities, but Bobby Jolley put his life and future on the line without looking at what was in it for him and his family. When Jolley came into the room you always knew he was there as a voice for the voiceless. The people of the Pee Dee and the state of South Carolina will miss the General, because he was one of a very few leaders who knew how to organize and bring people together, which earned Jolley the respect of people in both the white and black communities.