Cynthia Hurd

“Cynthia Graham Hurd” by Mario Andres Robinson; Emanuel Nine Tribute Portrait Project

“Cynthia was a tireless servant of the community who spent her life helping residents, making sure they had every opportunity for an education and personal growth.”

Charleston County Public Library

A Lifetime of Learning

Cynthia Graham Hurd’s brother believes she used books to travel. “That was her escape—we weren’t poor growing up, but we didn’t have a lot of money. I think that was her way of going to faraway places and learning about different things” he said about her reading the World Book Encyclopedia as a child. He warmly refers to his sister as a “nerd” who pursued a library science degree. She was well known as a person devoted to connecting others to reading.

“One of the things she used to say is she loved to ask questions, so as to prompt people to search for the answer.

Donald J. Cameron, Chief Executive, Charleston Housing Authority

It seems that in every corner of her life, she was trying to connect people to with the scope of a bigger world: sometimes children with books, sometimes lower income families with affordable housing, sometimes grants with housing authority residents, and sometimes young folks with tours of the historic district.

Every Sunday and Wednesday since her childhood found Mrs. Hurd at Mother Emanuel.


Career and Education

A native of Charleston, she attended the High School of Charleston, which was followed by receiving her Bachelors in Library Science at Clark Atlanta University. After that, she returned and began her 31 years with the Charleston Public Library, beginning with her home neighborhood John L. Dart Library. However, this was not to be the end of her education. She went on to earn a Master’s Degree from the University of South Carolina in Library Information sciences. Mrs. Hurd had been branch manager of the St. Andrews Regional Library, one of the more busy branches, since 2011. She also worked part-time at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library.

“When I first started working for Cynthia—the first day—she showed me to my desk… She introduced me to everyone. And she said, ‘Let’s go.’ I said, ‘Go where?’” (Hurd explained that they were going to walk the neighborhood.) “You can’t know what we do until you know who we serve,” Hurd told her.

Time.com

Family

Malcolm Graham and Cynthia Hurd
Malcolm Graham and Cythia Hurd Credit: Courtesy Graham Family via People.com

While she had no children, her brother, state Senator Malcolm Graham remarked that losing her was like ripping the heart out of his family. He pointed out that she was the mother figure, who took over when their parents passed, who stayed connected to all the siblings.

“When their brother Melvin was just off to college and homesickness was getting him down, it was Cynthia who took the phone and silenced his complaining. ‘You can do this,’ she urged in a way that made him believe her. ‘No use turning back now.’

Time.com

Her friend Kim Williams-Odom, also a branch manager who said that Hurd mentored her, remarked how Hurd had become a surrogate aunt to Williams-Odom’s children. The two spoke several times a day, and Williams-Odom had taken over the John L. Dart manager position when Hurd left for St. Andrews. The sentiment is echoed by Patrice Smith, whom also worked in the library system with Cynthia Hurd. She recounts a friend who checked in during troubled times and treated her son as Cynthia’s own.

At the time of her death, she was days shy of her 55th birthday. It and retirement were things she was eagerly looking forward to. 12 minutes before the beginning of the Bible study, Kim had missed a call from her friend.


Advocate

It seems that much that has been written on Cynthia Hurd centers on her occupations as a librarian. While it is true that her passion was the Charleston public library, where her latest post in her 31 years was as branch manager since 2011 , she was also a stunningly busy advocate.

As an officer of the public housing authority, she fought for affordable housing for low-income families, securing African Americans a place in a city becoming quickly gentrified. The chief executive of the Charleston Housing Authority noted that she displayed a “fierce sense of justice” in her years on the authority’s board since 1995.

She was also the president of Septima P . Clark, a 501c3 charity in which she secured grants for housing authority residents.


Legacy

Her brother, Malcom Graham, shared his fears in 2015:

“I’m not optimistic about what will happen next because public-policy bodies—general assemblies and city councils and Congress—pay attention to the moment. As the days and weeks go by, people tend to say, ‘That happened; now let’s move on to something else.’

Malcolm Graham

The St. Andrews Regional Library was renamed the Cynthia Hurd Regional Library to honor the woman who spent 31 years there. “It’s the very least we can do for someone who was a true public servant” the chair of the Charleston County Council said. Further, the College of Charleston has renamed its Colonial Scholarship to the Cynthia Graham Hurd Memorial Scholarship, and will be providing full academic scholarships to in-state students.


References

WLTX Staff. 2017. “Family of Emanuel Victims Testify Against Dylann Roof.” WLTX. January 6, 2017. https://www.wltx.com/article/news/local/family-of-emanuel-victims-testify-against-dylann-roof/101-383155257.
Kunkle, Fredrick. 2015. “Cynthia Hurd: Remembering the Charleston Church Shooting Victims.” Washington Post. June 18, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/charleston-church-shooting-victims/.
Truesdell, Jeff. 2015. “Charleston Church Shooting Victims Ranged from Pastors to Politician to Girls’ Track Team Coach.” PEOPLE.Com. June 18, 2015. https://people.com/crime/charleston-victims-ranged-from-pastors-to-politician-to-girls-track-team-coach/.
The South Carolina Department of Education. n.d. “Cynthia Graham Hurd – South Carolina African American History Calendar.” Accessed July 21, 2019. https://scafricanamerican.com/honorees/cynthia-graham-hurd/.
BBC News. 2015. “The Victims of Charleston Shooting,” June 18, 2015, sec. US & Canada. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-33193090.
Von Drehle, David, Jay Newton-Small, and Maya Rhodan. 2015. “What It Takes to Forgive a Killer.” TIME.Com, November 12, 2015. https://time.com/time-magazine-charleston-shooting-cover-story/.
Simeone, Jessica, Tasneem Nashrulla, Ema O’Connor, and Tamerra Griffin. 2015. “These Are The Victims Of The Charleston Church Shooting.” BuzzFeed News. June 19, 2015. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/jessicasimeone/these-are-the-victims-of-the-charleston-church-shooting.


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