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Avery Research Center Updates



The past several months have been busy at Avery, with collections being processed and lectures occurring almost weekly. Our next lecture is on Thursday, March 22nd at 6pm featuring-Dr. Ronald E. Butchart, who will give a talk on his book Schooling the Freed People: Teaching, Learning, and the Struggle for Black Freedom, 1861—1876.


Check out our Facebook page for photos from our previous events including, but not limited to:

Women’s History Month talk by Distinguished Scholar Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole (Co-sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta Charleston Alumnae Chapter) and  Women’s History Month Artist Marketplace

The Tinsmith of Tradd Street, William James Parker (1835-1907): A Journey of Discovery by Paul Garbarini

Children’s Sweetgrass Basket Making Workshop with Henrietta Snype

Celebrating Black Women in America


Celebrating Black Women in American Culture and History Exhibit (1st floor)

Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Exhibition (2nd and 3rd floors), which will be closing on April 4th, 2012

Archival Collections

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Collection

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Collection has been processed and is comprised of 17 boxes divided into the following series:

1. Administrative, 1977-1994, and undated

1.1 Committees, 1977-1995, and undated

2. Programs and Events, 1975-1995 and undated

3. Publications, 1973-1994, and undated

4. Subject Files, 1920, 1960-1994, and undated

5. Photographs, 1992 and undated

6. Miscellaneous, 1987-1994, and undated

The following is a snippet of the abstract:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was started on February 12, 1909, partly in response to the prevalence of lynching of African-Americans in America and the 1908 race riot that occurred in Springfield, Illinois. The Charleston Branch of the NAACP was founded in February 1917 by Edwin Harleston. The branch was established to advocate and fight for the rights of African Americans in South Carolina and Charleston.

The Charleston Branch of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) collection contains branch and

committee correspondence, financial records, materials relating to events and programs sponsored by the Association, subject files, photographs, and miscellaneous material.

Lois A. Simms Collection

Page 21 of Scrapbook

Page 21 of Scrapbook

Currently, I am processing Lois A. Simms’ personal papers. Simms graduated from Avery Normal Institute in 1937 and went on to pursue degrees in Education, English, and Social Studies. She taught in various elementary and high schools in Charleston before she retired in 1976. Simms remains an active member of Zion-Olivet Presbyterian church in Charleston. Furthermore, she is the author of Profiles of African-American Females in the Low Country of South Carolina (1992); Growing up Presbyterian: Life in Presbyterian Colleges and Churches (1992); and A Chalk and Chalkboard Career in Carolina (1996).

Items in her collection include papers from her higher education work, professional records tha

t document her teaching at Burke High School and Charleston High School, student photographs and thank you notes, four scrapbooks (1935-2003), and published copies and proofs of Zion-Olivet’s Scroll newsletter.

Page 25 of Scrapbook

Phillis Wheatley Reading Room

In the Reading Room Ms. Wright, Ms. Mayo, and graduate assistants, Emily Rousseau and Sheila Harrell-Roye have been busy assisting patrons with their reference requests via in-person, phone, or e-mail. Topics scholars are researching include; resistance movements, music, Gullah-Geechee language and culture, the connection between South Carolina and Liberia, African-Americans and Civil War involvement, the lives of free-blacks in Charleston, genealogy, etc. It is quite exciting to locate documents in our collection that benefit researchers, scholars, students, and others in their hunt for information.

Dr. Robert Chase’s Conference Updates

As a part of our efforts to educate the public about the scholarship that is being done here at the Avery Research Center here is a post written by the Public Historian, Dr. Robert Chase, about his upcoming conference.

In the Fall, Dr. Chase presented his research on the history of the prisoners’ rights movement and the construction of the carceral state to three conferences:  Rutgers University’s conference on “From Post Modern to Post Blackness”; University of Colorado, Boulder’s “Sunbelt Prisons and the Carceral State: New Frontiers of State Power, Resistance, and Racial Oppression” symposium; and at the Western History Association’s annual meeting.

Sunbelt Prisons and the Carceral State: New Frontiers of Racial Oppression, State Power, and Resistance

Conference Website

At the invitation of the Clements Center for Southwest Studies, Dr. Chase is presently coordinating a symposium and co-editing an anthology titled, Sunbelt Prisons and the Carceral State: New Frontiers of Racial Oppression, State Power, and Resistance.  This anthology and interdisciplinary symposium brings together scholars of the state and state formation, borderlands, Chicano/a history, the Black Power movement, politics and social movements.  It is co-sponsored by the Clements Center for Southwest Studies of Southern Methodist University and by the Center of the American West of the University of Colorado, Boulder.  The Clements Center has co-sponsored ten such symposiums, each of which has resulted in a published groundbreaking anthology based on a specific theme or field of pioneering historical studies.

Michelle Alexander

Michelle Alexander (image from

Declaring that today’s racially disproportionate rates of incarceration represent “a New Jim Crow,” legal scholar Michelle Alexander has advanced the argument that “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.” Historians should have something important to say about whether our age is indeed a “New Jim Crow,” and the history of region, geography, and space plays a crucial role in this reconsideration. Dr. Chase takes up Professor Alexander’s charge by considering the historic role of the American Southwest and Borderlands in shaping today’s contemporary era of mass incarceration and the construction of what many historians now call the “carceral state.”

Building on the innovative fall 2011 symposium held at the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Center of the American West, the spring 2012 symposium (March 22-24) offers a different platform than the academic seminars of years past. This year’s seminar features a public history event and public policy symposium where some of the nation’s leading scholars, politicians, civil rights attorneys, formerly incarcerated activists, journalists, and community organizers in Dallas will collectively discuss the historical roots of mass incarceration and problems, possibilities, and potential solutions. The day-long event includes a series of four roundtable panels that will include dialogue with the audience. The final panel of the day will create a space for academics, students, and faculty to exchange ideas and experiences with those who have experienced incarceration as well those who have challenged the problem of mass incarceration through the legislature, the courts, and grass-roots activism. The day’s final panel will include Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (invited); Ernest McMillan – civil rights veteran and formerly incarcerated activist; Ray Hill – formerly incarcerated activist and host of “The Prison Radio Program;” Bill Habern – long-time civil rights and criminal defense attorney; and Lisa Graybill – legal director of ACLU, Texas.

Below is a recap of a conference that Dr. Chase attended in October 2011.

Narratives of Power-Center for Historical Analysis, Rutgers  University

From Black Modern to Post Blackness: A Retrospective Look at Identity.”

Conference Schedule

Conference Program

This conference addressed the changing narratives of power in a time of historical transformation. Inspired by the election of Barack Obama, media pundits, scholars, and the public more broadly are asking how this momentous shift in the United States’ polity has changed the way that we understand the American past and present. Given the history of New World slavery, segregation, and disfranchisement, the election of the country’s first black president has led many to reflect on the operation and exercise of power in the United States. Although his election has been widely celebrated by supporters, Barack Obama’s campaign highlighted many of the growing fault lines and demographic shifts within the American public. Shifting parameters of identity created both the opportunity for new coalition and division. One of the most striking elements of the election was the remapping of the U.S. electorate based on multiple vectors of identity and voting behavior. The mass media focused an unprecedented level of attention on region, gender, intergenerational change, immigration status and linguistic designation as analysts stressed the increasing power of new political constituencies.

Using both President Obama’s campaign and election as starting point, we plan to use this topical theme as an opportunity to create an expansive, interdisciplinary dialogue about the intersection, overlap, and conflict across different channels of power and identity, including race, gender, sexuality and class. We have chosen to include narrative because as decades of scholarship questioning the interrelation of author and subject have shown, an interrogation of how the story is told, by whom, and to what end is essential to the process of understanding power.

IMLS Fellow Update

I have been working at the Avery Research Center for about a month now and I have been keeping busy and productive. My progress in the archives and social media are detailed below.


I have processed and created the finding aids for two collections, the Humane and Friendly Society and the Lecque Family Papers.

The abstract for the Humane and Friendly Society reads:

The Humane and Friendly Society was a benevolent society of free African American men in Charleston, South Carolina. The Society served as a way to provide for widows, orphaned children, a burial place for its members, and it also arranged apprenticeships and educational opportunities for African American men.

The collection consists of administrative materials of the Humane and Friendly Society including meeting minutes, correspondence, and membership lists. Topics of discussion include raising membership dues, care of the graveyard, and the rules of being a member. The record journal notes who paid dues, how long they have been a member of the Society, and where members are buried in Charleston. The plot records include completed and blank application forms.

Before I processed this collection I knew that there were organizations created by African-Americans that assisted the community in many aspects, but this was my first look at a society that was dedicated to helping to bury individuals. Working with this collection allowed me to see how deep racism is; that even in death African-Americans and Caucasians could not be next to each other.  One of the major issues of concerns within the meeting minutes was the cost of membership in relation to the upkeep of the Humane and Friendly Society cemetery (which is located in the Magnolia Complex).

The other collection that I worked on was the Lecque Family Papers. Working with a family collection as opposed to an organizational collection presents different challenges and context in terms of the arrangement and description. Since I am not from the area I did not know who the Lecque family was and why their collection would be here at Avery, but I read the newspaper clippings I began to see the role that the family had in establishing the Liberty Hill community in North Charleston. Most of the collection delves into the history of Liberty Hill and St. Peters’ African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, but the collection also consists of genealogical information, legal documents, funeral programs, and photographs of the Lecque family. Some of the photos were framed in oval sized frames and Ms. Georgette Mayo and I had to decide if we wanted to take the photos out of the frame or keep it in there. This was a preservation decision, we were not sure if we took the pictures out of the frame if the photo(s) would become damaged.  Ultimately, we decided that the photos should remain in the frames.  In order to obtain a better understanding of the family structure I did genealogical work on the Lecque family using at the South Carolina Reading Room at the Charleston County Public Library. From there I used census records, the social security index, and draft cards to compile a list of birth and death dates and marriage information.

The collection that I am working on presently is the Prince Hall affiliated Order of the Eastern Star Chapter No. 41 Papers. This collection has been great to work on as I am interested in organizations that women are a part of and kinds of work that they do. The collection consists of administrative records, financial materials, records relating to the O.E.S. rituals and ceremonies, as well as material documenting the activities of Prince Hall Lodge No. 46 (the Charleston Lodge). I will post a full commentary on it when completed.

Social Media

The other activity that has been keeping me busy has been increasing Avery’s social media presence. I have been maintaining the Keep Your Eyes on the Prize blog well as updating Avery’s Facebook page on a daily basis with information about African-American issues, concerns, resources, etc. on a local and national level. From my efforts I have gained more “likes” on the Avery page and made connections with relevant people who are interested in African-American history and culture, historic preservation organizations, and cultural heritage societies locally, South Carolina, and nationally. Through these connections Avery obtains a broader network of supporters and also increases the visibility of the archival collections and encourages people to use our resources. In addition, we promote our programs and staff activities.

Ms. Mayo and I attended a webinar (an online workshop at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library) regarding the creation of interactive subject guides (a guide created by archivists and librarians that compiles relevant information about a certain subject/theme for researchers). Historically subject guides were static (i.e. text only), but now with the diverse modes of transmitting information this needs to be changed. The presentation stressed the importance of video, audio, and visual materials as well as including blogs, news feeds, and student created content in these subject guides. I am investigating the possibilities of using these types of subject guides at the Avery Research Center.

A couple of examples of interactive subject guides can be found here:

The presentation can be found online here

If you have any thoughts about what topics and themes you would want to see done as subject guides please comment below.

Hidden Collections No Longer Hidden!

In 2009, under Principal Investigator Harlan Greene, the Avery Research Center received a Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Hidden Collections grant totaling over $200,000 to address the center’s backlog of unprocessed archival collections.  These funds provided staff, equipment, and other resources necessary to complete a variety of projects that have improved access to our diverse archival materials.

Mia Fischer transcribing and editing an oral history.

Mia Fischer transcribed and edited oral histories.

I am happy to report that this project came to its successful completion in June 2011!  Under the CLIR grant, the Archives team was able to process over 400 linear feet of archival material; photograph and digitize Avery’s material culture collection; and transcribe and convert to digital format 35 oral histories.  Collections processed and finding aids encoded with these funds include the papers of renowned anthropologists Joseph A. Towles and Colin Turnbull; local journalist Herb Frazier; civil rights activists James E. Campbell and Bill Saunders; former South Carolina Representative Herbert U. Fielding; psychologist and educator Frederica Daly; and renowned architect Herbert A. DeCosta, Jr.  These and the numerous other collections processed during the project are of considerable research value on both a local and national level.  A full listing of our published finding aids are available from Avery’s website, and the results of the material culture project may be found at the Lowcountry Digital Library’s website.

Melissa Bronheim processing architectural drawings from the H. A. DeCosta Papers.

Melissa Bronheim processed the H. A. DeCosta, Jr. Papers, which included a number of architectural drawings.

I had the fortunate opportunity of being a part of this project in various capacities from start to finish, but the work could not have been completed without our Assistant Archivists and previous Project Archivists, who deserve much more recognition than what I can provide in this blog!  Please join me in congratulating them and the Avery Research Center for the successful completion of a project of incredible scope and size.

Project Archivists:

Jessica Lancia

Amanda T. Ross

Project Assistant Archivists:

 Melissa Bronheim

Rachel Allen

Mia Fischer

Andrew Grimball

Joshua Minor

Project Registrar:

Susan Jacoby

Project Photographer:

Liz Vaughan

Project Cataloguer:

Anne Bennett


Thanks again to everyone who made this project possible!

“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]

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