The death of one of Myrtle Beach’s community leaders Herbert Riley has left many reeling.
“One of the things I loved about him was every time you saw him he would just share wonderful stories,” Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune said Wednesday. “People lose sight of the fact that we have so much black history here in Myrtle Beach and Herbert was responsible for preserving so much of it.”
Riley started the Carver Street Renaissance Group focusing on bringing businesses back to the Booker T. Washington neighborhood by reviving interest in Charlie’s Place. He had a vision, and work has begun, on turning the former nightclub site into a museum, performance venue and community center.
Last month, Riley announced the documentary “Charlie’s Place” won as the Best Historical/Cultural Program for the 45th annual Southeast Emmy Awards.
“I just can’t say enough good things about him,” Randal Wallace said hearing of his passing. “I’ve known him for I don’t know how long, but a long time. Our fathers were friends back when the Patricia Grand was the Patricia Inn. I’m just shocked.”
Wallace, a former Myrtle Beach city councilman, said Riley worked with the city to save Charlie’s Place and stressed the importance of preserving the history while moving forward.
Another former city council member, Wayne Gray, said their friendship spanned 25-plus years.
“He was a friend. He was a true friend and colleague,” Gray said. “He was such a strong advocate of the African-American community, not just in our city but in our society.”
Riley helped start the Myrtle Beach Jazz Festival and was a founding member of the Carolina African American History Foundation. He was a member of the Horry County Affordable and Workforce Housing Commission. He served as the chairman of the Horry County Planning Commission from 2003-2011.
“Herbert was most well-known for being responsible for saving Charlie’s Place,” Bethune said. “Not just the building, but he really preserved the history that came with it.”
Riley stood in front of friends and supporters recently as he announced the Emmy nod for the public television documentary. Not one to waste an audience, Riley’s face flashed with pride as he talked about Carver Street’s revitalization.
“Carver Street was jumping. That was the hippest street in town back in the 40s. It was jumping from one end to the other even when I was a kid in the 50s,” he had said noting that it would be again.