“I left South Carolina at 1:30 P.M. on December, 28 1955. It was exactly 10 days after my 18th birthday. I had a cardboard suitcase and $1.50,” said Tony Chandler. Prior to December, 28 1955, Mr. Chandler lived on his parent’s farm, called Cedar Swamp, in South Carolina. An avid historian, Chandler can trace his family and their property back to his ancestor’s slave master and the division of the farm after the Civil War. His family still carries the slave master’s last name and lives on Cedar Swamp, their post-war acquisition.
What Mr. Chandler may not have known however, is that he is an important participant in one of the greatest events in the history of the nation that he loves- The Great Migration. Due to the vast numbers of migrants and the decades-long time span, the Great Migration has perhaps yet to receive the amount of significance and research that it deserves. However, starting in 1940, 7 million African Americans moved out of the South and relocated to various cities in the North.
Chandler, after recognizing the lack of opportunities in South Carolina, was one of them. Unlike other stories, Chandler recalls segregation but not active, violent racism in his journey to Washington, D.C. and later to Philadelphia. Growing up in South Carolina, he first set his sights on college, and after realizing that that was unlikely, he stopped attending high school all together. What may have seemed like a move to “drop-out” to some people was merely a transitional act that would benefit Chandler by means of education and success throughout his life.
The North allowed him to complete high school and then college and Chandler proceeded to live a prosperous and successful “American Dream.” Literally working his way through school and up the East Coast, he started in a Chinese restaurant and eventually progressed to the United States Mint office, where he contributed in the design of influential coins and was an integral member of the teams that created Congressional medals of Honor for Nelson Mandela and the Pope. His memory of the process that resulted in the 2000 introduction of the Commemorative Quarters decorated with each of the 50 states is remarkable. He can tell you about the thickness of the coin, the sandblasting technique to perfect the pattern and exactly what temperature the dye needed to be to make the imprint permanent.
Like the coins he designed, Tony Chandler’s story will be imprinted in America’s memory. His story is similar to, but at the same time unique from, those of the Great Migration. When confronted with questions of racism, his response is simple and calm before he directs the conversation back to his work and the positive aspects of his life. The story that Chandler’s life tells is one of triumph. Recognizing the oppressive laws towards African Americans in 1955, Tony Chandler knew that if he stayed on his parent’s farm would eventually become a product of his environment. So, he changed his environment.