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The Pollitzer Sisters in Charleston—And Around the World

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 12, 2019 | No Comment |

This post is by Melissa R. Klapper, Professor of History and Director of Women’s & Gender Studies, Rowan University.

During my visit to Charleston last March as research fellow at the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture, I made a sort of pilgrimage to 5 Pitt Street, the house where sisters Anita, Carrie, and Mabel Pollitzer grew up. I was delighted not only to see a historical marker on the site, but also to see that Carrie and Mabel got their due as well as their more famous (outside Charleston, at least) younger sister Anita. Anita (1894–1975), who left Charleston for college after graduating from Memminger High School and never really returned to the city to live, gained national and even international renown for her work with the National Woman’s Party, the more militant wing of the suffrage movement.  After the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, she continued to work on feminist issues, most notably as a longtime advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, which was first brought before Congress in 1923.  Her sisters Mabel and Carrie also ardently worked for women’s enfranchisement and were charter members of the Charleston Equal Suffrage League. Carrie (1881–1974) served as the assistant principal of Memminger, directed the South Carolina Kindergarten Training School, and became active in the Charleston City Federation of Women’s Clubs.  Mabel (1885–1979) graduated from Teachers College at Columbia University in New York and then returned home to teach at Memminger.  She was president of the Charleston County Teachers’ Association and helped establish the Charleston County Library.  Both Carrie and Mabel lived to a ripe old age and became beloved figures in the city.  But that didn’t mean they never left Charleston.

Carrie Pollitzer

I came to Addlestone Library, home of the College of Charleston’s Special Collections and the South Carolina Historical Society’s archives, to conduct research for my current book project on American Jewish women who traveled abroad between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of World War II.  These decades saw foreign travel become more accessible to a growing number of Americans thanks to the development of less expensive tourist-class travel and accommodation and the growing popularity of the idea of vacations.  All three Pollitzer sisters traveled with some frequency.  And in 1926 Carrie set out on what turned into an epic journey of nearly two years abroad, keeping a travel journal all the while (Anita Pollitzer Family Papers, SCHS 1210.00, Box 24/29/1).  That travel journal is the very stuff of history, and in its pages Carrie’s comments on her adventures shed valuable light on the way that American, gender, and Jewish identity interplayed in all American Jewish women’s travels abroad.

The travel journal covers a lot of ground, but there are three elements I will emphasize here.  The first is Jewish identity.  The Pollitzer family was involved with KKBE, but none of the sisters were traditionally observant and Jewishness rarely shaped their life choices.  Still, while abroad, like many other American Jewish women, they found themselves attending synagogue services, marking Jewish holidays in their diaries, socializing with other Jews, and visiting Jewish homelands, memorials, and cemeteries.  Carrie ate at a kosher lunchroom in Paris (August 2, 1926), remarked on the Arch of Titus in Rome, which was erected to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem (December 26, 1926), and visited her maternal family’s synagogue in Vienna.  Of this last experience she wrote, “This morning I went to services in the old synagogue where my grandparents worshipped.  I feel it a great privilege to be able to do this.  The synagogue is small but very fine.  The chanting was beautiful” (June 18, 1927).

The second noteworthy element of the journal is Carrie’s reaction to the standard sightseeing she did.  She benefited from the new tourist industry that had developed over the previous few decades, which sprang up to serve adventurous but not necessarily wealthy travelers, a mass of people who depended on affordable guidebooks, maps, and markers to ease their journeys and tell them where to go and what to do.  Like so many others, Carrie dutifully admired the art at the Louvre (July 28, 1926) and went to see “The Last Supper” in Milan (October 21, 1926).  She was not always so impressed by the standard sights, however.  After touring St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, she drily noted that “The most flattering comment I can truthfully make:  It is big, its pictures are big, its sculpture is big.  The whole thing is big and glitters with gold” (December 12, 1926).

The last element of the journal worthy of comment here is the displacement that accompanied even the most exciting extended trips abroad.  While Anita joined her for segments of her trip, Carrie traveled alone for much of the time.  Though she interacted with all kinds of people, she began to feel sad and tired of being so much on her own.  Marking Thanksgiving in her journal in 1927, she wrote disconsolately, “I feel so lonely.  I wish I were in  Bft. [Beaufort] with bright faces around me” (November 25, 1927).  Soon afterward she decided to go home to Charleston.

Nov. 25, 1927 journal

As these (hopefully tantalizing) references to Carrie Pollitzer’s travel journal make clear, American Jewish women’s travel experiences reflected, both literally and metaphorically, the opening up of the world to women.  Looking at Jewish women in particular allows for analysis of the ways in which travel disrupted and complicated identity for a group whose religious and cultural traditions emphasized conventionally gendered notions of female domesticity, even though such notions were often honored in the breach by economically active and activist American Jewish women of all class backgrounds.  Southern Jewish women like the Pollitzer sisters were just as likely to take advantage of new opportunities for travel as any others, bringing their experiences home with them to enrich their families and communities.

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2018-2019 in Review

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

2018-19 was crammed full of exciting events and activities put on by the Southern Studies program and the many College faculty and academic programs who study the South. The volume of things to report has necessitated six separate posts, people! Certainly no human being could have attended all these events, so click the links below if you would like to review just how much was going on.

Fall 2018 included over a dozen events including lectures on Yiddish politics, Anson Street burials, Southern photography, and a performance by Cary Ann Hearst.

Spring 2019 was even more overflowing with events that included two academic conferences, lectures and symposia on foodways and memory and memorialization, an unforgettable procession down George Street for the ancestors’ reinterment, and an evening with Henry Louis Gates.

The College saw several important developments related to Southern Studies, from the formation of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston to our first 5 students completing the Southern Studies minor. Faculty continue to publish academic work related to the south,  and students and faculty continue to share their knowledge of the region with the public and with community partners, as this summary indicates. And next year’s line-up of upcoming events and future publications also looks very promising.

Please enjoy this round-up and be proud of the many important and productive ways that C of C faculty, students, and staff are studying the South. As I noted when I started this blog back in late 2016, “studying”  is what you do when you care about the region. You pay close attention; you strive to understand people and phenomena in greater depth. You share your knowledge with others who seek to make our region a better place for all. I’m very proud to be in the company of so many people doing this great work. Much more work is still needed, more urgently than ever. Bravo, and onward.

Julia Eichelberger

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What Can We Expect in 2019-20?

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

Here are a few events and programs being planned for 2019-20, as well as a list of publications expected in the coming year. Further details will be featured on the blog and via our faculty listserv.  Stay tuned!

A new special topics course in Arts Management for Fall 2019:  ARTM 360-04: ST: Managing and Documenting the Charleston Jazz Initiative – M – 4:00-6:45 – 316 Simons Center for the Arts

Fall 2019: Halsey Gallery will exhibit works by New Orleans printmaker Katrina Andry and by Charleston artist Colin Quashie.

The College’s Bully Pulpit Series will be hosting a number of presidential candidates in the coming months. The organizers will share details as soon as they know them.

Sept 7-14 Pride Week at C of C

Sept 9-11 Susanna Ashton, Clemson English professor and author of works on slave narratives and African American writers as well as an LDHI exhibit, on campus English Department’s Visiting Scholar. Public lectures and workshops TBA.

Sept 12  4-6 Pm AAST Film Screening, Traces of the Trade

Sept 25 Presentation by Eric Crawford/Brigitta Johnson (music/ethnomusicology scholars who will discuss music in relation to Race, Religion, Resistance)

October 2-6   Association for the Study of African American Life & History ASALAH Conference (Embassy Suites Hilton, N Chas)

October 3    Charleston Museum/Gullah Geechee Meal with Chef Kevin Mitchell

Oct 21-25, times TBA: Events related to Daniel Black’s novel The Coming

October 21-23  Southeastern Museums Conference

Oct 25 WGST’s Yes! I’m a Feminist

October 24-26 2019 Conference The Architectures of Slavery: Ruins and Reconstructions at C of C, hosted by ARTH/HPCP (Nathaniel Walker, Barry Stiefel)

Nov 12 AAST’S Consuela Francis Lecture: Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh, speaking on religious culture, religious consciousness, and resistance among enslaved Black women in the South.  

Spring 2020: Halsey will feature Southern artists Butch Anthony and Coulter Fussell.

Jan 30 (Founders Day): launch of College’s 250th anniversary; lecture by John McCurdy, author of Quarters: The Accommodation of the British Army and the Coming of the American Revolution.

May 14-17      Port Cities in the Atlantic Conference (CLAW)

Some Forthcoming Publications

Vince Benigni will be lead author of an invited chapter for the Handbook for Sports Fans and Fandom (Routledge), which will be published in 2020,  tentatively titled “Emotions in Motion: Twitter and the SEC Coaching Carousel.”

Knotts, H. Gibbs, and Jordan M. Ragusa’s  First in the South: Why South Carolina’s Presidential Primary Matters, is forthcoming from the University of South Carolina Press.

Bourne, Henry James, Christopher A. Cooper, and H. Gibbs Knotts.  “When the Personal Vote Isn’t Enough: Voter Mobilization and the Failed Effort to Change the Form of Government in Columbia, South Carolina.” Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs, forthcoming.

Harriet Pollack’s  collection New Essays on Welty, Class, and Race will be published by UP of Mississippi, the first in a series of books on Welty that she is editing. Another essay, “Evolving Secrets: Eudora Welty and the Mystery Genre” will appear in Detecting The South in Fiction, Film, and Television. 

Nathaniel Walker will be publishing “Designing the Diaspora: Expressing African Heritage in Historic Charleston,” a talk delivered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at an international conference Through Local Eyes: Place-Based Approaches to Emerging Architectural, Urban Design and Planning Challenges in Africa and the Global South.  That conference is producing a book that will include his talk.

 

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Recent Developments at C of C

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

New C of C Programs, Curricula, and Other Developments in 2018-19

A huge array of great courses were offered for the Southern Studies minor in Fall 18 and Spring 19.  Additionally, these developments:

Sept 24 2018 C of C announces new Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston, directed by Bernard Powers.  Representatives of CSSC attended Fall Symposium of Universities Studying Slavery Oct 24-26  2018 Tougaloo College, Jackson, MS, co-hosted by University of Mississippi.

Nov 2018 Presidential Search Committee and Board of Trustees choose Dr. Andrew T. Hsu as C of C’s 23rd president.

Feb-March 2019 –A public mini-course on “Southern Jewish History” by Shari Rabi attracted around 50 people at each of the three meetings

Julia Eichelberger with Marti Stegall, Jake Anders, Patty Ploehn, Stella Rounsefell, Mary Scott Gilbert

Spring 2019 First 5 Students Complete Interdisciplinary Minor in Southern Studies

 

March 8 Student walkout and rally in protest of racist video posted on social media by C of C students on class field trip   

April 15 College announces that its property along the Stono River formerly called Dixie Plantation, will now be called Stono Preserve.  

“Hidden Hands” garden at Stono Preserve

April 28 Groundbreaking ceremony for new Teaching Garden, “Hidden Hands that Worked this Soil” at Stono Preserve, sponsored by MS in Environmental and Sustainability Studies

May 26-June 7 2019 Center for Southern Jewish Culture’s NEH Institute (jewishsouthsummer.cofc.edu)

June 2019: Voices of Southern Hospitality Oral History Project enters its second year

Finally, in Summer 2019 we regretfully congratulate these valued colleagues on new opportunities that are taking them away from C of C. We’ll miss you! Wishing you all the best in this next chapter: 

Shari Rabin (JWST) will begin teaching at Oberlin; Patricia Williams Lessane (DIrector of the Avery) will become Associate VP for Academic Affairs at Morgan State University; Rebecca Shumway (HIST) will begin teaching at U of Wisconsin-Milwaukee); Jerry Hale, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, who along with the rest of HSS has been a big supporter of the Southern Studies program, will become Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the U of Tennessee-Chattanooga.

 

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Recent Publications about the South by C of C faculty

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

Chandler, Karen A.  “Bin Yah (Been Here).  Africanisms and Jazz Influences in Gullah Culture.”  Jazz @ 100: An Alternative to a Story of Heroes, edited by Wolfram Knauer, Wolke Verlag, 2018, pp. 227-245.

Hughes, Melissa, and Whitney L. Heuring. “It takes two: Seasonal variation in sexually dimorphic weaponry results from divergent changes in males and females.Ecology and Evolution, 16 April 2019.

Amira, Karyn, Christopher A. Cooper, H. Gibbs Knotts, and Claire B. Wofford.  2018. “The Southern Accent as a Heuristic in American Campaigns and Elections.” American Politics Research, 46(6): 1065-1093.

Kelly, Joseph. Marooned: Jamestown, Shipwrecks, and a New History of America’s Origins. Bloomsbury, 2018.

LeVasseur, Todd. Religious Agrarianism and the Return of Place: From Values to Practice in Sustainable Agriculture. SUNY Press, 2018.

Peeples, Scott. The Oxford Handbook of Edgar Allan Poe. Co-edited with J. Gerald Kennedy. 2019.

Rosengarten, Dale “Babylon is Falling: The State of the Art of Sweetgrass Basketry,” Southern Cultures Summer 2018

Walker, Nathaniel. “The Promise of Pluralism” in Victor Deupi, ed., Transformations in Classical Architecture: New Directions in Research and Practice (Philadelphia: Oscar Riera Ojeda Publishers, 2018), 178-187.  

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Southern Studies in the Public Eye 2018-19

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

Selected Interviews, Op-Eds, Public Lectures, Events, Service by C of C Faculty/Students, 2018-19

Summer 2018: Grant Gilmore works with HPCP students to analyze and document the wooden schoolhouse from the Jim Crow era in the Snowden community of Mt Pleasant. Fundraising has begun to preserve the structure.

August 24 2018 History professor Adam Domby interviewed for several newspapers on student protests & toppling of statue of Confederate soldier “Silent Sam” at University of North Carolina

Sept 24, 2018  Post & Courier op-ed on why we should study slavery, “Charleston Must Own Its Slavery Wrongs If It Hopes to Right Them,” by SOST program director Julia Eichelberger

Nov 9 Coming to Monuments, choreographed by C of C dance professor Erin Leigh, featuring the music and poetry of Marcus Amaker: an original evening length work that blends contemporary dance, theater, and storytelling to unpack the history behind the display of Confederate memorials and the conflicted legacy their presence bestows.  Performed in Nov 2018 and then on May 26 for Piccolo Spoleto.

Nov 2018:  Joseph Kelly’s lecture at the Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, DC appears on C-SPAN2. On Nov. 21, his op-ed in New York Times appears, also based on his book Marooned.

Dec 2018  Ade Ofuniyyin, Joanna Gilmore, and the Gullah Society are featured in a National Geographic newsletter article about the Anson Street burial ground and the research that was supported by a National Geographic Society grant. C of C biology major Adeyemi Oduwole was also awarded a National Geographic grant to work with University of Pennsylvania researchers to analyze DNA of the individuals excavated at Anson Street.

Feb 5 2019  C of C senior, HPCP & ARTH major and SOST minor Patty Ploehn is interviewed on The Metropole, the Urban History Association’s blog

Feb 16 2019 Bernard Powers speaks at Akron-Summit County Public Library on his book (co-authored with Herb Frazier & Marjory Wentworth) We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel  

February 2019 Nathaniel Walker’s lecture, “Recognizing the Enslaved Laborers Who Built Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim” delivered at KKBE.

Feb 26 Egungun Tunji: Ancestors Rise Again! City of Charleston & the Gullah Society (C of C faculty Ade Ofuniyyin and Karen Gilmore), co-sponsored by CSSC, including presentations on DNA research, memorialization of African burial grounds in New York, and delivering of DNA analysis to dozens of Charleston residents eager to receive the information.

March 2019: After a wonderful and much-lauded residence in Charleston (notices in major newspapers and magazines and extensive discussion in the photography blog Lenscratch), the Southbound photography exhibit sets off on its tour, starting in NC and moving to TN and beyond.  

March 29 The City Luminous: Architectures of Hope in an Age of Fear opens at City Gallery, curated by ARTH faculty Nathaniel Walker and Jessica Streit

April 3 2019 City Paper op-ed by Adam Domby, “Let’s Be Honest About the Roots of Confederate Monuments”

April 5 2019 Dale Rosengarten receives South Carolina Folk Heritage Award for “Advocacy, African-American Lowcountry Basketry & Southern Jewish Heritage.”

April 10 2019 Political Science Professor Gibbs Knotts is frequently interviewed on Southern politics, as in this article on Kamala Harris’s teacher pay proposal in the State (Columbia, SC) newspaper.

April 23 2019 Biology professor Melissa Hughes publishes a blog post about a southern crustacean, the snapping shrimp, on the Ecology and Evolution blog

May 3 2019 History professor Hayden Smith is keynote speaker at the Carolina Gold Rice Foundation’s spring meeting.

May 3 2019 op-ed on the reinterment of individuals buried on Anson Street“Honoring Charleston’s Ancestors,” by Julia Eichelberger

Ancestors’ Reburial on Anson Street and the grounds of Gailard Auditorium attended by numerous C of C faculty; Dr. Kameelah Martin (AAST) delivered remarks on behalf of the College’s Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston and African American Studies program. President Steve Osborne was among those who wrote messages that were buried with the ancestors.

May 10 2019 “Beyond Romantic Advertisements: Ancestry.com, Genealogy, and White Supremacy”, by Adam Domby, published on African American Intellectual History Society’s blog

May 18 2019 Dale Rosengarten is awarded the Order of the Jewish Palmetto from the Jewish Historical Society of SC

Spring 2019: HPCP’s chair, Grant Gilmore, serves on an advisory panel for the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site regarding the reinterpretation of the site for the 21st century, and is appointed to the Advisory Board for Reconstruction Beaufort by Mayor Billy Keyserling.

May 26 2019 Dr. Scott Peeples discusses “The Afterlife of Edgar Allan Poe” at the Sullivan’s Island Public Library

May 27-June 7 Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture conducts NEH Summer Seminar, “Privilege and Prejudice: Jewish History in the American South”

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Spring 2019 events

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

So many great events on campus throughout Spring 2019, we just had to list them all here:

Dec 2018-Spring 2019 Rise That We May Feel Your Light: Exhibition of student designs for monument honoring the individuals in the Anson St burial ground. Addlestone Library Rotunda

Jan 11-12 Public Memory in the New South Symposium featuring numerous photographers and scholars including C of C’s Adam Domby, (Halsey Gallery, Southbound)

February 5-6, 2019 Bridging the Divide: Placemaking for Communities of Color in the South Carolina Lowcountry, with Bernard Powers, Grant Gilmore, and Wayne Smith among the panelists [Avery, African American Studies, Office of Institutional Diversity]

Feb 7 Voices of Southern Hospitality research presentation (Project directed by Mary Jo Fairchild and Blake Scott; reception cosponsored by SOST program)

Feb 8-10 The Vesey Conspiracy at 100: Black Anti-Slavery in the Atlantic World Conference sponsored by CLAW, co-organized by James Spady and C of C faculty Simon Keith Lewis, Joseph P. Kelly, and Rebecca Shumway.

Feb 12 Nikky Finney reads poetry at City Gallery; she discusses poetry inspired by her childhood and by Southbound photographs

Feb 14 SOST 400 Capstone Students’ research presentations and reception  (SOST)

Feb 19 “Women at the College of Charleston Between the Wars” with History Professor Emerita Amy McCandless, part of the Year of Women series

Feb 19 Marjory Wentworth “Breaking the Silence: The Writer in Community” Friends of the Library/Honors College lecture

February 20, 2019 Hate Crime Forum sponsored by the CHS Police Department and the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Daron-Lee Calhoun II, Race and Social Justice Initiative Coordinator here at the Avery Research Center participated in the Panel Discussion Q&A.   [RSJI

Feb 21-24 Eudora Welty Society Conference, “The Continuous Thread of Revelation” co-sponsored by Welty Society and SOST, HSS, ENGL, WGST)

Feb 21 Welty Society Conference, “Charleston Writers Discuss Their Beginnings” Harlan Greene, Marcus Amaker, Michele Moore, Josephine Humphreys, moderated by Julia Eichelberger

Feb 28 “Building Social Justice in the Heart of the City” Dr. Wiliam WestfallI (ARTH, HPCP)

March 8-May 1, 2019 Avery: The Spirit That Would Not Die, first floor of the rotunda of Addlestone Library

March 12 “Eudora Welty and the Art of Letter Writing” Julia Eichelberger, Friends of the Library/Honors College

March 27 “The Long Afterlife of Brown v. Board,” Co-sponsored by numerous departments including Southern Studies; discussion facilitated by Shannon Eaves,History

April 4, 2019 Black Lives Matter Charleston organized by Student Leadership Award recipient Allie Stern  

April 8 2019 “Land and Labor Acknowledgment” Sustainability Literacy Initiative

April 9 noon “The End is Redemption: Memory and Design in the Making of a More Beloved Charleston”—Nathaniel Walker, Friends of the Library lecture

April 9 5:30 pm  “Raising the White Flag: How Surrender Defined the American Civil War,”  David Silkenat (History)

April 9 7 pm “My Food is My Flag: A Conversation About Jewish African American and Southern Foodways” Michael Twitty and Marcie Ferris (collaboration with LCWA, Pearlestine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture) 

April 12, 2019 “Monumental: It was Never about a Statue” with Dr. Wes Bellamy  

April 13, 2019 1969 Charleston Hospital Workers Strike March and Rally 

April 16 “Holding Space in Charlottesville: Showing Up Against White Supremacy,” Dr. Jalane Schmidt (Sponsored by Religious Studies)  

May 4 Ancestors’ Reburial, sponsored by the Gullah Society. Procession down George Street began at College of Charleston, hosted by the Social Justice Working Group of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston 

May 7 Southern Studies End-of-Semester Happy Hour

May 9 Conversation/Booksigning with Henry Louis Gates and IAAM Curator Joy Bivins, co-sponsored by Halsey Gallery, C of C Rita Hollings Auditorium

 

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Events Fall 2018

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | June 2, 2019 | No Comment |

An impressive array of events took place in Fall 2018. Thanks to everyone who sponsored these events across campus.

Sept 2  “Yiddish Politics in New South Cities,” Dr. Josh Parnell  (Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture)

Sept 25 Policing Charleston during the Era of Slavery by Dr. Nic Butler  (Avery & Race and Social Justice Initiative–RSJI)

Frank Sturken ’51

Oct 13 Inaugural Sturcken Oratorical Competition, founded by SOST minor Tanner Crunelle (class of 2020) and named in honor of Frank Sturcken (class of 1951), who advocated for desegregation of the College while a student.

Oct 15 The Legacy of Slavery: Five Movements by Kwame Nimako           Avery/RSJI

October 17, 2018 “Last Seen”: Finding Family after Slavery with Dr. Judith Giesberg (Avery/RSJI/Friends of the Library)

October 23, 2018: Preservation of Lowcountry Foodways by Dr. Psyche Williams-Forson and Chef Kevin Mitchell  (Avery/RSJI/African American Studies)

Oct 25 Panel Discussion on Black Women in Higher Education (Women’s and Gender Studies, History)

Oct 18 Southbound: Photographs of and About the New South, an exhibit curated by Halsey’s Mark Sloan and Mark Long, begins its residence at Halsey Gallery and City Gallery, Oct 19 2018-March 2 2019

Nov 7 2018 Rise Up! Symposium on Anson St Burials in Randolph Hall, presenting research by Gullah Society and designs by Nathaniel Walker’s undergraduate students

Nov 1, Film Series, Oct 18, “Family Across the Sea,” Nov. 1, “The Language You Cry In,” Nov 8, “Priscilla’s Legacy,”  with Thomalind Polite and Edward Ball (CLAW)

Nov 10 Sounds of the South: A Music Symposium sponsored by the Halsey Gallery and the Southbound exhibit, with Rachel Boillot, Bill Carson, C of C’s Dr. Karen Chandler, Lisa Elmaleh, Bill Ferris, Jake Fussell, Cary Ann Hearst (C of C class of 2001), Jake Steber

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Transmission of Trauma: Legacies of the Holocaust

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | May 28, 2019 | No Comment |

Lucas Wilson wrote this post about research he did in Charleston this semester. He is a Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Studies, Florida Atlantic University.

I spent a week in Charleston as a Charleston Research Fellow this past February. It was my second time as a fellow through the College of Charleston’s Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture. The first time I was in attendance in 2017, I explored archival holdings that pertained to the lived experiences of children of Holocaust survivors known as the “second generation.” The archive contained newspaper articles, op-ed write-ups, pamphlets, and other materials that detailed what it was like to grow up with survivors. I found much that spoke to how these members of the second-generation saw their parents, especially in relation to how they saw themselves; how they negotiated their parents’ pasts in their own lives; and how they lived with inherited traumas and embodied knowledges that stemmed from their parents’ experiences during the Holocaust. I was particularly interested in how these members of the second-generation spoke about and described their childhood domestic lives, how they inhabited homes that were marked by their parents’ Holocaust legacies. I wanted to know how sharing intimate space and time within the home assisted in the transmission of intergenerational traumatic knowledge. My first time as a fellow allowed me to wade through a rich body of ephemera and documentation that detailed these above-mentioned themes, facilitating an interdisciplinary approach to my work on second-generation Holocaust oral history and literature.

As a fellow this spring 2019, I was in Charleston not to go through the archives again. Instead, I came to help build an oral history archive. I was tasked with conducting eight oral histories with a number of second- and third-generation witnesses, six with women and two with men. Some of the narrators (the official name of those being interviewed) were siblings. Some were from Charleston. Some were from elsewhere. Two women were former school teachers. One woman was a physiotherapist. One man was an archivist and an award-winning historian. One man was a doctor. One woman used to own her own restaurant. One woman was a lawyer. And one woman was an artist.

Each individual I interviewed expressed a different understanding of how the Holocaust continues to impinge upon the present, be it in their own lives and/or the lives of other family members. As I was expecting, the narrators of these oral histories described a wide range of life experiences. My research demonstrates how members of the second generation (and the third generation, to be sure) are a vast, complex, and diverse group of individuals who share many characteristics but also are quite divergent in their relationship to the Holocaust. Some are seemingly unaffected by their parents’ pasts, whereas others are continually forced to grapple with (and are traumatized by) the burden of what their mothers and fathers went through leading up to, during, and after the Shoah. However, despite their many differences and despite their varied career paths, that which united them was their parents’ Holocaust pasts and their own engagement with social justice issues.

I was particularly struck by two of the women whom I interviewed, two women who were sisters and whose mother was a child survivor. They were both sharp, articulate, engaging, and each had a strong sense of humor. They were both college-educated, and each had families of her own. Although they shared much—particularly their emphasis on family, helping others, and a keen sense of empathy—they were also emphatically different in how they approached the knowledge of their mother’s past.

One sister—a physiotherapist and a mother—was afflicted by panic attacks since she was a child. These panic attacks have lessened as time has gone on, but she told me that she still wakes up from night terrors and is never sure when they will overtake her. As a child, when she would have one of her panic attacks, she would sprint as fast as she could and would not stop until the sense of panic had lessened. She was also one who did her best not to think about the Holocaust. This is not to say that she has not in some ways engaged with her mother’s past (for she emphatically has), but it is to say that she disengaged and tried her best to separate herself from having to hear about the Shoah, particularly through film, books, and other media. Such an active disassociation and refusal to engage was and is an act of self-protection. When children are inundated with stories that instill a great amount of fear, they naturally do their best to remove themselves from the situation and keep themselves (psychologically) safe. When I spoke with this narrator about how she would sprint when she felt panicked, I thought about how her sprinting away could be a way of trying to run, figuratively and literally, from that which was haunting her. Such a somatic response is of course very much an externalization of the inner emotional/psychological turmoil that has commonly plagued children of Holocaust survivors.

The other sister—a former restaurant owner and also a mother—diverged significantly from her sister in how she dealt with their mother’s Holocaust past. She was the historian, so to speak, of the family. She was very much engaged with keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, and she was in the process of writing her own memoir that detailed both her mother’s story and her own. Unlike her sister, she read books on the Holocaust and watched Holocaust films. Through her active grappling with Holocaust memory and history, this sister was seemingly trying to make sense of not only her mother’s past but her own life as well—which makes sense because for the second generation, the Holocaust is personal. And though these individuals were not alive during the Shoah, the Holocaust continues to impinge upon them and impact their lives in ways that seem, almost, as if they were.

As I asked these two women about their childhood homes, I was again struck by how different two individuals raised by the same survivor can respond so differently. As I said above, I am interested in how members of the second generation describe their childhood homes, and when I asked these sisters to describe theirs, their descriptions underscored again how differently they respond to the Holocaust. When I asked the first sister who actively disengaged with the knowledge of the Holocaust to describe her childhood home, she did not once actually mention the inside of her home. She described playing outside, traveling, hanging out at other friends’ houses, but she never once described the interior of the home. The sister who actively engaged with the Holocaust, on the other hand, offered a detailed description of the house in which she grew up. These divergent descriptions reflect how the first sister disassociated herself from the intimate space of the home, a space that is defined for her by her mother’s sadness that stemmed from the Holocaust. The other sister, the one who consistently confronted her inherited trauma, was contrastingly more than willing to describe her home and the sadness therein. These descriptions, again, reflect how the children of Holocaust survivors relate to their parents and their parents’ traumas.

My time in Charleston this spring was fruitful, as it was my first time around, and the oral histories I conducted offered me powerful insights into the transmission of traumatic knowledge from one generation to the next. These oral histories will reside in the Jewish Heritage Oral History Archives and will be made publicly available through Addlestone Library’s Lowcountry Digital Library. Once they are posted, I encourage all to listen to these first-person accounts of the lived experiences of the extraordinary men and women I was fortunate to interview.

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Honoring Charleston’s Ancestors on May 4

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | May 3, 2019 | No Comment |

The following post was also published on May 3 in the Post and Courier. However, they left out the quotations I included at the beginning and ends of the article, so I have included those here.

Honoring Charleston’s Ancestors

Julia Eichelberger

And some there be, which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born; and their children after them.                  Ecclesiasticus 44:9

There’s a lot of history to study in Charleston, but isn’t it mostly the history of wealthy white families, the people whose records fill most of our archives and whose homes are most carefully preserved? Their names are on streets and buildings; their oil portraits and antique furniture are most often on display; theirs are the few families who had the means to write and preserve their letters, diaries, plantation ledgers. We’re grateful their artifacts survive. To be able to handle and walk through these bits of the past is exciting, even magical, making us feel transported to another era. And yet these archival remnants deceive us if we imagine they offer a complete, representative picture of our past. The hands who built and tended these historic structures, the bodies compelled to create these households’ wealth, are all but invisible in Charleston’s picturesque streets, unless we know what to look for: fingerprints in bricks, “servant” quarters, benne seed wafers.

 

This week we will re-inter 36 African-descended people whose remains were discovered in 2013 near the corner of George and Anson Streets.  When the city was renovating the Gaillard Auditorium, no one expected to find a burial ground there. One early owner of this property, George Anson, gave the streets his names, but neither he nor subsequent owners left records of the cemetery that clearly existed there. That’s not surprising. Once dead and no longer able to work or bear children, the bodies of enslaved people who could yield no further profit would have held little interest to most white Charlestonians. Someone, probably a community of enslaved people, carefully laid these dead to rest, but within a few decades, they disappeared beneath the earth, joining the many thousands gone whose unfree labor built so much of our beautiful city.

 

Thanks to efforts by the City, the Gullah Society, the National Geographic Society, Penn State, and C of C student researcher Adeyemi Oduwole, these human remains have been carefully excavated and analyzed.  DNA indicates the areas in Africa where most people came from, and isotope analysis even suggests how many years they’d spent on this side of the Atlantic. Researchers are now comparing these findings with DNA samples taken from present-day Charleston residents.

 

So these ancestors, having enriched the city with their labor centuries before, are now increasing our knowledge of who we are and how we’re connected. The bodies of the living are joining these rediscovered dead in an enlarged archive of historical information and human understanding. In providing this knowledge, the ancestors continue an old tradition in which the living receive guidance and encouragement from the dead. In the Kongo cultures from which some enslaved people came, there were two realms of existence,  “the visible and the invisible intertwined in the same space,” writes Ras Michael Brown (African-Atlantic Cultures and the South Carolina Lowcountry). Burial grounds, where ancestors are embedded in the landscape, give the living a link to the invisible realm of the dead. For people brought to a strange new land where they were enslaved, ancestors would have been especially important. Brown and other scholars even posit that the famous tale of the Flying Africans at Ibo Landing may have been a tale of self-sacrifice: those enslaved people may have chosen to drown themselves, transforming an alien land into a sustaining home. In Brown’s words, those dead gave themselves as “a sacrifice, an offering to the land and waters to consecrate the landscape of the Lowcountry with the lives and spirits of captive Africans brought in chains to this shore.”

 

Whatever you may believe about visible or invisible realms, it’s clear that the Anson Street burial ground is enriching 21st-century Charleston with new knowledge and inspiration. On May 4, the City and the Gullah Society will return the remains of these individuals very near to their original resting place on the Gaillard grounds.

 

If you’d like to join the procession down George Street and the celebration that follows, meet at the College of Charleston, 58 George, between 9:30 and 10:30. The Center for the Study of Slavery is hosting the procession’s starting point. Before we set out at 10:30, you may also write a personal message to be buried with the ancestors.  Thanks to them, we’ll walk down a beautiful Charleston street, together.

 

We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;

We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.

Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last,

Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

James Weldon Johnson

 

 

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