I have long been aware that my UUCC isn’t the only one. In fact, there is another congregation by the same name (and therefore acronym) in South Carolina. Recently I was wondering what the other Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia was like. This led me to also wonder what the other Columbia itself was like. So I pulled up a map, and that’s when it all started.
I was studying the South Carolina map when I suddenly was struck by how familiar it seemed. It took a few minutes before I knew why. As it turned out, Howard County and South Carolina had similar shapes, towns named Florence, Simpsonville and Waterloo, and reservoirs along their southwest borders. This revelation led to an exploration of what else they may have in common.
(Warning: there’s a reason “mappy” rhymes with “sappy.”)
In addition to their shapes, I found that Interstate 95 crossed each in approximately the same place, and “Columbia,” the largest city in each, was in roughly the same position within them.
I decided to contact David White, a native of Columbia, S.C., whom I met when we both worked for a Washington Post Company publication at Marine Corps Base Quantico. Dave was my editor and one of the best newspaper men I’ve known. I knew he would share my excitement about South Carolina and Howard County.
During our phone call, I first admitted that you wouldn’t normally compare Columbia, Md., to Columbia, S.C., for any reason other than their names, but, with my curiosity piqued, I decided to see what else they have in common.
The answer: not much really. Although Columbia, S.C. (pop. 118,000), and Columbia, Md. (pop. 98,000), are very similar in size and have grown at about the same rate since 2000, that’s about all that the two cities appear to have in common. In fact, the rest of this tale is a startling example of “haves” versus “have-nots” in cities that are separated by much more than the 515 miles between them.
“The South Carolina unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation, but Columbia is insulated from hard times because of its proximity to Fort Jackson, state government and the University of South Carolina,” said White.
Nonetheless, Columbia, the state’s capital, appears beset with poverty.
“Columbia has several personalities,” he continued. “It’s part academicians at the university and part heavy-duty redneck.”
Although the Palmetto State skews very Republican, Columbia “is very mixed blue/red and sits apart from the rest of the state. We just elected our first black mayor. Actually [Columbia] is very progressive given the state’s history of racism.”
Columbia, S.C., founded in 1805, is much less densely populated than Columbia, Md., with some farmland within its borders. Its people tend to be younger and less educated.
By comparison, Columbia, Md., is a wealthy suburb with an average household income two-and-a-half times, unemployment nearly one-fifth, and a poverty rate approximately one-sixth of those of the other Columbia.
At the risk of sounding rude, I had to ask Dave why he lives there.
“Columbia is a fascinating place. It’s two hours from the beach in one direction and two hours from the mountains in the other, hot as heck in Aug. and Sept., and wonderful the rest of the year. You can be outside on your deck having a beer with your friends in January. You can’t do that in your Columbia!”
A few days after our call, White sent email asking if I had noticed that Columbia’s People Tree resembles the tree on the South Carolina flag. See, it would take a great newspaper man to notice such a thing.