By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Staffers at the Darlington County Historical Commission have unearthed another buried treasure, and this time their detective work will ensure that an accomplished African American boxer and U.S. Army veteran receives the grave marker he deserves.
In early June, the Commission received a donation of miscellaneous land records from the Antioch Community in Hartsville, including many pieces related to the Brunson and Boatwright Mercantile operation on the Darlington Public Square. One of these items was a partial news clipping from around 1985 with a photograph showing the demolition of the Center Brick Warehouse at the corner of Broad and Main Streets in Darlington.
“In the photograph, standing in the rubble is an older African American man. The caption identified him as “Kid” Otto McCall, and it said that in 1936 he had fought several matches at the Center Brick Warehouse,” says Brian Gandy, director of the Historical Commission.
Gandy says the man in the photo seemed familiar. He recalled that in the Commission’s collection of photographs by Darlington lenser John Jamison, there were a few portraits of a boxer from that period that just might be Otto McCall.
In one of Jamison’s photos, “Kid” McCall stands facing the camera with fists raised and an intense gleam in his eye. The sidelong portrait shows the 210-pound fighter’s powerful legs and arms in sharp relief.
“At the time when Jamison took these photographs, it was at the height of Jim Crow in the south and it would have been a segregated society, but he took a lot of artistic photographs of African Americans with a great deal of detail and care and time,” says Gandy. “We came to find out that in 1936, 1937, and 1938, McCall was the African American Heavyweight Champion of South Carolina, and he was born right here in Darlington.”
Gandy did some research, complied a record of McCall’s fights, and found a copy of his obituary – which gave him some leads on where to find McCall’s family members. First, he made contact with Otto’s granddaughter and she relayed the information and photographs to her father, Dwayne Robinson, for verification.
“I got a call the next morning from her father, and he could hardly talk because he was crying. He was extremely emotional, and he said that as soon as his daughter showed him the picture of Otto McCall, he said, ‘That’s my daddy!’” says Gandy.
Gandy and Otto’s son met three days later and shared what each of them knew about the late “Kid” McColl: he fought up and down the eastern seaboard from Miami to New York City; his career record was 7 wins and 5 losses, with 4 wins coming by way of knockout; he was a good father and provider and a good husband to wife Elma Bruce McCall; his motto (as recalled by Dwayne) was “Be a man about everything you do”; he worked at the Darlington Veneer Mill; he served stateside during WWII and received an honorable discharge.
Also, Gandy learned that when Otto McCall died in June of 1986, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Faith Memorial Gardens.
“That was just tragic…here’s this poor fellow, disconnected from our present day and disenfranchised from his own history,” says Gandy, who has been working with Veterans Affairs to secure a proper headstone for McCall’s grave.
The headstone has been approved and could be installed later this summer.
“Identifying Mr. McCall repatriated him with his history, and it allows us all to learn and grow from his experiences,” says Gandy. “This started with an unidentified and undeveloped photographic negative. And now Otto “Kid” McCall has been reconnected with his past, his family is reunited with his legacy, and the community has an opportunity to celebrate his life and accomplishments.”