Tag Archives | Oral Histories

Hutchinson Recounts Charleston Church History

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.

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$25 and a 9 Hour Ride

Working on Avery’s Oral History Collection for the past few months has probably taught me more history about the Lowcountry region and the Civil Rights Movement than any other educational source. So today, I want to share with you a tiny part of an interview with Septima Poinsette Clark that was recorded in 1982, which struck me for various reasons. It is fascinating to hear this lady -– the Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement –- talk about her family history and her upbringing on Henrietta Street.  (Did you know that Charleston is actually more residentially segregated today than it ever was?)

Septima Clark with papers

I’m sure most of you have heard of Ms. Clark, who is an alumna of the Avery Normal Institute, in the context of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and her alliance with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Some of you may also know that she actually got banned from teaching in Charleston in 1956 because she was a member of the NAACP — two years after the Supreme Court ruled Brown vs. the Board of Education unconstitutional!

But what really caught my attention in this oral history was Ms. Clark recounting her first teaching experience on John’s Island.  Back in 1916, it actually took a nine-hour boat ride through the creeks, depending on the tide,  to get to the island from Charleston since there were no bridges. Can you imagine?

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