Author Archive | Amanda Ross

“Being Put Away Decent”

Today’s post was authored by a Guest Contributor, historian, folklorist, and ethnomusicologist Dr. Kristine McCusker.

At first glance, the E. A. Harleston Funeral Home and Mickey Funeral Home ledgers, housed in the remarkable Avery Research Center, may seem like dry tomes.  But these rich documents tell a variety of stories about being black in Charleston and in the South. The stories found in the ledgers range from reflecting a common death experience to the truly unique and, quite frankly, horrific. Consider this mystery woman who died in 1936 for whom there are but two notations in Harleston’s ledger: first, that she was sent home for burial from Columbia, Georgia, where she had most likely migrated during the Great Migration, and second, that she had died after swallowing a safety pin, a horrible way to die (Reel 3, Page 393).  We know nothing else.  Was it an accident?  Did she commit suicide?  The ledger, unfortunately, remains silent at this point.

The ledgers are evidence, too, of the secure elite status conferred upon funeral directors like Harleston and Mickey.   In the Jim Crow South, the physical separation of black and white in life required deceased bodies to be embalmed, “funeralized,” and buried racially separate as well, at least in large cities like Charleston.  This provided an exclusive business for motivated and entrepreneurial people like the Harlestons and the Mickeys who owned livery stables first and then began to include embalming services with their livery stock.  Moreover, that exclusivity provided them an economic buffer against segregation since their clientele was all black and they were, therefore, not subject to white control or whim.

Continue Reading →

The Echo of Cannons

Nineteeth Century Freedom FightersThis morning, many Charlestonians awoke to the sounds of cannons, echoing the mortar fired onto Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861.  These canons usher in the official sesquicentennial commemoration period, one that, for some, began with a Secession Ball held by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in December 2010.  But what resources are available for those searching for ways to  “commemorate” sans hoop skirts and the strains of “Dixie?”

The Avery Research Center offers a variety of primary and secondary sources available to the public:

Primary Materials

Archival Collections

  • Walter Pantovic Slavery Collection: These documents and artifacts span the African American experience from slavery to the Civil Rights era to the rise of African Americans in popular culture. Highlighted items in his assembled collection include shackles, slave tags, and manillas along with 1960s Civil Rights ephemera and 1970s African-American pop culture memorabilia.
  • 19th Century Illustrations Collection: This collection contains selected images from Harper’s Weekly, New York Illustrated News, and Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.
    • African American Individuals [Box 2]
    • African American Life and Labor, to 1865 [Box 1]
    • Military Images, 1860-1864+ [Box 2]
    • Cartoons and Stereotypes [Box 2]

Continue Reading →

In Memoriam: Emily Spencer DeCosta and Janet D. Hicks

The Avery Research Center would like to celebrate the lives and accomplishments of two supporters, Emily Spencer DeCosta and Janet D. Hicks.

Emily Spencer DeCosta was born in 1923 in Washington, D.C. to James Spencer and Evie Carpenter Spencer.  In 1942, Emily received her bachelors degree from Virginia State College; in 1943, she earned a master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She taught English at Virginia State College for three years and while there, she met Herbert A. DeCosta, Jr.

In 1946, Emily married Herbert DeCosta and began working for his construction company as the bookkeeper, office manager, and corporate secretary from 1947 until her retirement in 1985.  Emily and Herbert had two children, Gail Spencer DeCosta and Margaret Craft DeCosta.

Continue Reading →

Esau Jenkins and the Progressive Club

This semester, the Avery Research Center has greatly benefited from the services of three interns.  In today’s post, TJ Fielder, a senior and political science major at the College of Charleston, shares some of what he learned as he worked with the Esau Jenkins papers.

History is all around us.  As a student at the College of Charleston, I never took the time to recognize the vast history that surrounds me.  It was not until my senior year at the college that I was granted the opportunity to intern at one of the nation’s most fascinating research centers and archival museums.

The Avery Research Center located in downtown Charleston, South Carolina is the home to many primary artifacts, documents, and oral recordings.  With a huge focus on the Civil Rights Movement, I often found myself reading articles and personal letters and looking through photos that captured many of the civil rights leaders in that era.  Through the internship and the time I spent at the center, I was able to research the life and contributions of a prominent community leader in the Charleston County Area.  Esau Jenkins broke barriers and paved the way for many in his community to abandon poverty and achieve equality through education.

Esau Jenkins was born in 1910 on Johns Island, South Carolina.  While in the 4th grade, attending Legareville Elementary School, he lost his mother at the age of 9 and had to quit school to bring in money for his family.  He worked in Charleston on a boat, and in 1926, at the age of 16, Esau Jenkins married Janie Elizabeth Jones.  Through this marriage the two had 13 children.  It was the people in his community that motivated him to advocate for change.  Experiencing the poverty and underprivileged people, he took it upon himself to make things better.

Progressive Club vanIn 1948, Esau Jenkins established the Progressive Club in efforts to combat the state of the people living on John’s Island and the surrounding areas.  He knew the importance of citizenship, registration, and voting.  The lack of education within his community was a condition that Jenkins refused to accept for his people.  He sought to teach the people on John’s Island the importance of political education and the value in working together.  He theorized that by being politically educated things can change; his first task was to get the people registered.  In order to get respect and have a voice, one must be a registered citizen.  Through the Citizens’ Committee, he held classes in his bus that focused on the United States Constitution;  in order to be a registered citizen, one must read the Constitution in its entirety.  Jenkins would read to the people and collectively they would comprehend the meaning of the document.

Continue Reading →

‘Mislike Me Not for My Complexion’

In spring 2010, Julia Ellen Craft Davis and Vicki Lorraine Davis generously donated the Craft and Crum Family Papers to the Avery Research Center. Archivists and historians alike are delighted with the major highlight of the collection: a tribute book to William and Ellen Craft, enslaved people from Macon, Georgia who completed a daring escape and became internationally known celebrities.

'Mislike Me Not for My Complexion,' quoted by Ira Aldridge

Ira Aldridge quotes the Prince of Morocco from William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice.

Opening the slim volume for the first time, Avery staff members gasped at the handwriting of thespian Ira Aldridge, an African American from New York who graced the London stage in the 19th century. Though celebrated in England and the European continent, Aldridge also faced enormous prejudice due to his race. Invoking the sentiments of the Prince of Morocco in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Aldridge quoted, “Mislike me not for my complexion, / The shadow’d livery of the burnish’d sun.” With these words, Aldridge welcomed American refugees William and Ellen Craft to England and issued a shared plea for equality.

Created upon the Crafts’ entrée into English abolitionist circles, this tribute book contains passages and quotations written by well-known supporters, including the American author Harriet Beecher Stowe as well as Ira Aldridge and his wife, the Swedish countess Amanda Aldridge. A cartes-de-visite album of these figures, the Crafts, and other abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison provides a rich visual counterpart to the volume and hints at the international importance of these materials.

Harriet Beecher Stowe writes to the Crafts.

Harriet Beecher Stowe quotes two biblical passages as she writes to the Crafts.

But just who were the Crafts and how did they emerge as public figures in the transatlantic abolitionist movement?
Continue Reading →

Partners in Progress

As the College of Charleston moves towards an academic major in African American Studies, the Avery Research Center, the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program (CLAW), and the African American Studies program have intentionally and thoughtfully enhanced cross-program collaboration. January ushered in a new form of partnership, as the programs cooperated to offer an artist-in-residence series.

Tracing History sought to share one man’s living history and memory with the South Carolina communities that have nurtured it. Roger Guenveur Smith, an Obie award‐winning teacher, performer, and artist, explored his past during a week‐long residency. This residency included tutorials and performances open to the public, a workshop with students from the College of Charleston, campus and community film screenings with ensuing discussion, and a public conversation with Smith related to his Charleston family history and genealogy.

In evening workshops, Smith worked with undergraduate participants to craft narrative and performance pieces. The students were encouraged to use archival and other historical materials to create new work for the stage. The workshop concluded with an open public rehearsal of the participant-created pieces at the Avery Research Center.

Deborah Wright, our Reference Archivist, recently found this video from Native Magazine featuring this innovative partnership between the arts, the archives, and public memory:

Continue Reading →

Lecture: Freedom’s Teacher, the Life of Septima Clark

Freedom's Teacher: the Life of Septima ClarkOut of the archives and into public discourse… For her biography of Civil Rights activist Septima Poinsette Clark, Katherine Mellen Charron drew significantly on the archival holdings of the Avery Research Center.  Please join us on Thursday, February 17 as Charron, assistant professor of history at North Carolina State University, lectures on Freedom’s Teacher: the Life of Septima Clark.

Charron’s work traces Clark’s life from her earliest years as a student, teacher, and community member in rural and urban South Carolina to her increasing radicalization as an activist following World War II, highlighting how Clark brought her life’s work to bear on the Civil Rights Movement.  Charron’s engaging portrait demonstrates Clark’s crucial role — and the role of many black women teachers — in making education a cornerstone of the twentieth-century freedom struggle.

Continue Reading →

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes

Skip to toolbar