If you have lived south of Broad Street, there is a great chance that you may remember a very agile, tiny man, Mr. Felder Hutchinson, serving you as a mail carrier for over thirty years until his retirement in 1985. If you are a member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Thomas Street, you may have had the pleasure of encountering Hutchinson either as a dedicated Sunday school teacher, vestryman, warden, or lay reader — just to name a few of his numerous functions.
In 1985, Dr. Edmund L. Drago and Dr. Eugene Hunt conducted an interview with Felder Hutchinson as part of the Avery Normal Institute Oral History Project. In this oral history, Hutchinson provides great insight on Charleston history. Although Hutchinson was not a historian by training, he clearly was an avid collector of memories and documents, especially pertaining to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
I remember a quote from the former director of the Avery Research Center, Dr. Marvin Dulaney, who asked my African American Studies class back in 2007: “Do you really believe we have left segregation behind us? Why is it then that our nation is so segregated on Sunday mornings at 11am?” At that moment it wasn’t quite clear to me what he was trying to get at, but then this interview made it click for me: yes, why is it that white folks and black folks in the Holy City each flock to their churches separately every week? Well, there are various reasons and multiple books and dissertations have been published on this issue; but as I listened to Hutchinson’s interview he gave a very interesting, personal account on the creation and founding of his beloved church: St. Mark’s Episcopal.
St. Mark’s Church was founded on Easter Day of 1865, at the end of the Civil War. Prior to that, free blacks had worshiped at the white churches, which were closed as General Sherman was approaching the city. Therefore, “those small tradesmen or people of means who were free had nowhere to go… they decided they wanted to have an Episcopal Church and they petitioned City council for the use of the Orphan Chapel which at that time was on Vanderhorst Street, between St. Philip and King Street.” In this account, Hutchinson hereby refutes Mamie G. Fields’ claim that St. Mark’s was begun by the slave owners of St. Philip’s Church for their mulatto children.
In 1866, the members of St. Mark’s decided that they wanted to organize as a parish, a self-supporting church, in a temporary building, known as the Old Triangle on Alexander Street. Further, quarrels erupted over accepting St. Mark’s in the convention of the Episcopal diocese as long as they had a white rector. After Anthony Toomer Porter left the church in 1886, they called the first black man ordained in the Diocese of Virginia, John Henry Manigault Pollock, who stayed with the congregation until the turn of the century. In 1890, the first Colored Convocation for black priests was finally started in South Carolina. Interestingly though, St. Mark’s refused to join with the Reformed Episcopal movement. In 1878, the current building on Thomas Street was consecrated and St. Marks continued to flourish until the years of the Great Depression.
If these little snippets have caught your interest, you may be surprised to find more startling information in this interview, dealing with such issues as miscegenation and colorism; balcony seating for slaves in St. Michael’s Church; or St. Andrew’s Episcopal Mission dealing with the issue of what do with all freed slaves after the Civil War, as the freedmen drastically outnumbered plantation-owning families.
Unfortunately, Felder Hutchinson, who was truly an open history book, passed away in 2009. However, I’m very glad that the Avery Research Center is able to preserve some of his valuable knowledge contained in these oral histories and make them available to a larger public. Without these efforts, local insight such as Hutchinson’s would surely have been forgotten and lost forever.