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Darby was a 'crafter' of Camden fashion

Posted: January 14, 2011 5:14 p.m.
Updated: January 17, 2011 5:00 a.m.
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Richard Darby Sr.

“Look, I ain’t gonna live forever. And I want people to know that God has been real good to me. I’ve lived a long, good life, and I have the people of Kershaw County to thank for that.” –Richard Darby Sr., 1999

 

A long, good life indeed. Richard Darby Sr., a Kershaw Countybusiness man, an artist, passed away last week at age 92.

The crafter of men’s suits, Darby aimed to “make people’s clothes look as good as or better than” his own, he said during a 1999 interview. He ran Darby’s Tailor Shop for more than 50 years in Camden, where he landed in the late 1940s and lived with his wife, Flora Wright-Darby, who passed away in 1998.

During his decades in Camden, Darby served on the board of the Kershaw County Chamber of Commerce in the mid-1990s, was a member of the Shriners, and a loyal servant of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church.

“Just being a good family man, being involved in the community, that was very important to him,” said Darby’s daughter, Florence. “He wanted to expose us to many things.”

Education was a constant theme during an afternoon reminiscence with Darby’s children Friday at his home on Arrowwood Road. Their mother taught in Kershaw County schools for more than 30 years, and both children are third-generation college graduates.

“Dad understood the importance of education and hard work, and he made sure that my sister and I went to college,” said Richard Darby Jr., one of the first African-American students to attend Camden Middle School.

“For me, attending college was never really an option,” said Darby’s granddaughter, Sharise. “That was just what he envisioned for his family -- we were expected to go to college.”

Sharise said that when recalling his upbringing, her grandfather never focused on the negatives. Rather, he focused on the obstacles he overcame and how he was able to be successful. Again, “hard-working” was the first word the granddaughter said when asked to recall Richard Sr.

Darby learned tailoring through a program at South Carolina State, where he studied six hours a day for six days a week.

“He loved fashion. ‘Dapper Dan’ his friends would call him,” said Florence. 

“I still remember when I was very little sitting with him at his shop at night. He loved his work,” Richard Jr. said. “His art was to fit a man, cut the suit and have it ready in less than a week.

“His shop was his political forum for he and his buddies. They would sit in there and talk about whatever was going on, both locally and nationally.”

Born in 1918, Darby Sr. served in a segregated U.S. Army during World War II and may have encountered the racism of early to mid-20th century South Carolina. But in 2008, Darby cast a vote for President Barack Obama, who consequently spoke at Sharise’s college graduation from Hampton University.

“His condition was fading, he definitely understood he was watching history,” said Sharise, whose sister, Leah, will attend Winston-Salem State University.

 “That was so special,” recalled Richard Jr. “One of the proudest moments of my life was to sit with my father the night Barack Obama was elected. He knew something special happened.”

Like that moment the nation elected its first African-American president, Richard Darby Sr. himself was something special.

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