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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



under: Uncategorized

Panelists To Discuss Experiences Desegregating SC Schools

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | March 25, 2019 | No Comment |

Southern Studies is a co-sponsor of this event on Wed March 27, 5:30 pm in Randolph Hall, entitled “The Long Afterlife of Brown v. Board: A Commemoration of the Supreme Court Decision and Its Legacy.” Panelists Dr. Millicent Brown and Caroll Turpin will discuss their experiences desegregating SC public schools in the 1960s.

Reception is at 5:30 followed by the panel discussion beginning at 6 pm.

Flyer- Mar 27 event

under: Uncategorized

Students on the Cistern, Friday, March 8th.

Many people within and beyond the South don’t know enough, or don’t want to know enough, to recognize the horrors of slavery and the shame it still brings upon us all. That was proven once again last week, when some C of C students posted a video they’d recorded while on a class trip– laughing about slavery, having fun making racist comments, then sharing them with the world. These students have embarrassed us all, but other C of C students have made us proud. One day after the video made the news, students organized a protest on the Cistern, where they shared publicly the pain and anger they felt, not just in response to this recent incident, but to many others they’ve experienced as C of C students of color. As several of them said, when it was their turn with the microphone, “We’re tired.”

I emailed one student afterwards to find out which groups to thank for last Friday’s effort.  She told me, “The more general black student body is really who organized this event. The students . . . were acting simply as black students who attend this university. Leadership of the Black Student Union, Collegiate Curls, Human Rights Alliance, I-CAN, SGA, and various Non-Panhellenic Greek organizations just so happened to be the main people behind the organization and promotion of the event.” When I spoke to a few of these students on the street the same day, they weren’t taking much individual credit either. “It’s all hands on deck,” as one of them said. To all of you wonderful students, thank you for your solidarity and courage and determination. I hope we as an institution can be worthy of it.

Plenty of people here are trying. I was touched by an open letter from the SGA to the student body, written to “rebuke and condemn the racist messages of this video, and to let every student of color on this campus know that you do matter, that you do have a home here, where you are welcomed, valued and loved, and that we stand in solidarity with you against this vile and disturbing act of racism, that is so contrary to our values as an institution and to our common humanity.” We have a lot of work to do, though, to make those truths self-evident on our campus.

So let me commend the SGA and the student protestors for your heartfelt and timely response, and let me record one more note, to myself and anyone else who wishes to be an ally. When the students stood on the Cistern calling for meaningful action in response to racist incidents, they were not just talking to College administration. “I really appreciate y’all for being here today,” one protestor said to the many white students, faculty and staff in attendance, “I love y’all, but let me just tell you something. Check your people.”

When racism and its attendant stupidities and cruelties show themselves confidently, it harms us all. It’s on us—especially those of us who are white–to protest, out loud.

C of C students gave us a master class last week. Thanks, y’all.

–Julia Eichelberger, Professor of English, directs the Program in Southern Studies and serves as an Executive Board member for the College’s new Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston.  

Supporters of March 8 student walkout and protest against racist video other students made & shared on social media

under: Uncategorized

Charleston Writers & Eudora Welty Society Conference

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | February 20, 2019 | No Comment |

Four acclaimed interpreters of Charleston will reflect on their beginnings as writers Thursday, Feb 21, 5:30 PM in Stern Center Ballroom. Marcus Amaker, Harlan Greene, Josephine Humphreys, and Michele Moore will present their reflections. Moderated by Julia Eichelberger. Booksigning and reception to follow.

This is part of a 3-day conference sponsored by the Eudora Welty Society and the Department of English, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Southern Studies. There are 12 academic panels, and on one of them, two Southern Studies minors  (Stella Rounsefell, ENCW, Mary Scott Gilbert, HIST) will present on their research on Welty’s unpublished letters. That one’s Friday, 10:15, EHHP Alumni Hall.

College Hosts Conference on Eudora Welty



Full conference program


under: C of C Program in Southern Studies, Charleston, Southern Literature, Students, Uncategorized

Showcasing Our First Five SOST minors

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | February 14, 2019 | No Comment |

Five students will discuss capstone projects they did for the minor. Each capstone began in one of the student’s Southern Studies minor courses. For their capstone project, they enriched the original project using ideas, skills, and knowledge gained in other disciplines and courses from their program of study. Join us for celebration, discussion and snacks Feb 14, 3 pm, Addlestone 227.

Flyer lists student presenters Jake Anders, Mary Scott Gilbert, Patty Ploehn, Stella Rounsefell, Marti Stegall

under: Uncategorized

A Jewish Jacobin in Revolutionary Charleston: Abraham Sasportas

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | February 11, 2019 | No Comment |

This post is written by Philippe R. Girard, Professor of Caribbean History, McNeese State University.

© Philippe Girard 2019

Charleston, where I spent a week doing research in January 2019 as a fellow at the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture, is famous for its rich architecture and history. Some of it has not yet been fully explored: that is the case of Abraham Sasportas, who built the two houses now known as the “Sasportas tenements” at 44-46 Queen St., and whose name is also mentioned on the plaque in front of 54 Tradd St., as one of the “distinguished residents” who once lived at this address.

Abraham Sasportas was the scion of a wide-ranging Sephardic family, which, like all members of this Jewish community, originated in the Iberian peninsula before branching out to various Atlantic ports of Europe, the United States, and Charleston. Born in Bordeaux, France, Sasportas visited Cap-Français, Saint-Domingue (now Cap-Haïtien, Haiti) before settling in Charleston, SC, where in 1778 he married another Sephardic Jew with Caribbean connections: Rachel da Costa.

Sasportas became a noted patriot during the American Revolution. He served in the French militia that helped defend Charleston during the British siege (other members of the Sasportas family living in London and Amsterdam helped John Adams and Alexander Hamilton sell U.S. bonds in European markets). Then, when the British occupied Charleston, he left for Philadelphia rather than live under British rule. In Philadelphia, he helped finance a new synagogue as well as privateers to attack British shipping. This dual allegiance to his faith and to the age of revolutions defined his life.

Returning to Charleston after the American Revolution, Sasportas became one of the town’s leading figures. Ads for his mercantile house appeared regularly in the press: using his family connections, he imported sugar and other tropical goods from Saint-Domingue and Jamaica, as well as wine and brandy from Bordeaux. He often appeared in legal records as well, usually over unpaid debts, either as a defendant or a plaintiff. He was also active in freemason circles as well as the Jewish congregation, which was the largest in the United States and in 1792 began work on an impressive synagogue (now burnt) on the site of the current synagogue on Hassel St.

Sasportas never severed his links with France, particularly in the 1790s, when the French and Haitian Revolutions led to multiple waves of migration from France and the Caribbean, reinforcing Charleston’s distinctive French and Caribbean flair. This was the time when Sasportas became even more of a revolutionary activist and trouble-maker. He sided with pro-revolutionary Frenchmen, particularly the French consul Mangourit, and France’s local allies in the Democrat-Republican Party. Conversely, he made numerous enemies among exiled French monarchists and slave-owners, as well as the pro-British Federalist party. He joined the French Patriotic Society, the first and most radical of the pro-revolutionary societies in the United States, and involved himself in public battles that were the talk of the town. One was so bitter that Sasportas came close to fighting a duel with a French aristocrat he had insulted.

Just as he had done during the American Revolution, Sasportas outfitted privateers to harass British shipping. He was also the official French prize agent in Charleston, in charge of selling the British merchant ships seized at sea. The administration of George Washington, however, wished to remain neutral in the European war and banned such activities for US citizens. Sasportas, using his ambiguous status as a dual French-American national, continued his activities nonetheless, leading to sharp complaints by the British consul in Charleston and various lawsuits that ended up on the docket of the US Supreme Court.

Once, when visiting the prison of Charleston, Sasportas met a prisoner named Jonathan Robbins, who was accused of having been the ringleader during the mutiny of the HMS Hermione, the bloodiest mutiny in British naval history. British authorities spent years tracking down the mutineers, eventually locating Robbins in Charleston. Sasportas immediately took up his cause and hired lawyers for Robbins. No stranger to controversy, Sasportas found himself at the center of yet another political and legal maelstrom over impressment, extradition, and citizenship that attracted national attention (Robbins lost the case and was eventually hanged in Jamaica).

To prevail against the British and Spanish monarchies, the French revolutionary government had an ambitious plan: to raise funds and troops in the United States, then use them to invade Louisiana and Florida. French Consul Mangourit in Charleston was charged with organizing the invasion of Florida. The man who handled logistics for the expedition was none other than his prize agent: Abraham Sasportas. After years of preparations, the expedition was cancelled at the last minute at the request of the US government, but not before a group of French and American adventurers had invaded Amelia Island in Florida in 1794.

In the Caribbean, the French went one step further: they abolished slavery in 1793-1794 and employed black freedmen to attack British colonies and free local slaves. In South Carolina, where slavery underpinned the plantation economy, fears grew that French exiles would attempt a similar scheme. When slave conspiracies were uncovered in Virginia and South Carolina, Abraham Sasportas was immediately cited as a possible conspirator. The evidence for Sasportas’ involvement is thin, however: like most elite white men of his time, Sasportas was a slave-owner and remained so well into the 1800s. Like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, he saw no contradiction between the ideals of the Enlightenment and the peculiar institution of slavery.

Another Sasportas disagreed: Isaac Sasportas, the son of Abraham Sasportas’ brother in Saint-Domingue. From 1793 to 1795, Isaac lived with his uncle in Charleston. Isaac was a young man and an idealist who had embraced the more radical ideals of the French and American revolutions, including universal emancipation. After returning to the Caribbean, Isaac Sasportas hatched an ambitious scheme to invade British Jamaica with an army of 4,000 freedmen from Saint-Domingue and free the slaves of Jamaica. If successful, the plan would have changed the course of history, allowing the Haitian Revolution to export itself to foreign shores. With the help of the French representative in Saint-Domingue, Isaac recruited troops, armed ships, and went to Jamaica to set the plan in motion. But details of the plans were leaked—amazingly, by none other than the Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture—and the British were able to arrest and execute young Isaac in 1799. The slave revolt in Jamaica never took place.

Armband with slogan “Vanquish or Die”

When news of Isaac’s death reached Charleston, local planters again accused Abraham Sasportas of being again tied to the cause of abolition. He demurred, explaining that he had nothing to do with the Sasportas executed in Jamaica—even though he was his own nephew and he had lived with him for years.

Possibly because of his controversial political activism, Abraham Sasportas distanced himself from Charleston in later years. After remarrying to another member of a Jewish Charleston family, Charlotte Canter (who was 33 years his junior!), he made extended visits to his native Bordeaux and eventually re-settled there permanently. This leaves us with another mystery about his cultural identity: did Sasportas see himself primarily as a Jew? An American? A Frenchman? It’s difficult to know.

Several descendants of Sasportas remained in the United States, however. Some were white and Jewish; others were Protestant and mixed-race. Some of these mixed-race descendants, like Joseph Sasportas, owned slaves and did not challenge the existing racial order. Others, like Thaddeus K. Sasportas, were active in Republican politics during the era of Reconstruction and helped broaden black educational opportunities at Claflin University. Those complex dynamics are appropriate for the descendants of such a fascinating figure as Abraham Sasportas, who was at once an American patriot, a French sentimentalist, a Sephardic Jew, an outrageous Jacobin, a privateer, a tireless litigant, and a slave-owner. The plaque on Tradd St. might have to be enlarged to fit all the ways to describe the man who once resided there.


under: Uncategorized

Upcoming events–Jan/Feb 2019

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | January 25, 2019 | No Comment |

Here are a few upcoming events where you can learn more about the South and issues facing the region.

January 28 5-6:30 pm, Maybank 100 WGS Year of Women “Intersections” series on Gender, Race, and Medicine, with Kathleen Beres Rogers, Latecia M. Abraham-Hilaire, Allison Foley, Beth Sundstrom, Lisa Young, sponsored by WGST and English; refreshments will be served.

January 29, 6 pm Simons 309    Lecture on Southbound mapping project by Rick Bunch, UNC-Greensboro, sponsored by Halsey Institute & Southbound project

Feb 5, 6 pm, Randolph Hall  Panel discussion “Bridging the Divide: Placemaking for Communities of Color in the SC Lowcountry.” Bernard Powers, moderator; keynote by Stephanie Johnson-Cunningham; panelists Grant Gilmore, Wayne Smith, Kwadjo Campbell, Herb Frazier. Sponsored by OID, Avery, AAST, Arts Management.

Feb 7 5-7 3rd Floor Addlestone “Dynamic Pasts, Changing Futures: Student Reflections of Life in the Lowcountry” Sponsored by Voices of Southern Hospitality oral history project & Southern Studies program

Feb 8 6 pm 3rd floor Addlestone: Lecture by Bernie Powers, part of CLAW’s “The Vesey Conspiracy at 200”

Feb 9 7 pm 3rd floor Addlestone: Lecture by Michael Moore, part of CLAW’s Vesey conference

Feb 11, 6-8 pm. ECTR 118   AAST Film Festival “Beasts of the Southern Wild” with discussion led by Lisa Young

Feb 12 6 pm, City Gallery at Waterfront Park, An Evening with Nikky Finney, sponsored by Halsey Institute and Southbound

Feb 19, 3:30-5 pm, Addlestone 227    “Intersections” panel on Women in SC, with Amy McCandless, sponsored by WGS & History

Feb 20, 6-9 pm Gaillard Center, Hate Crime Forum, sponsored by Avery & Charleston Police Department

Feb 21, 6 pm, Halsey Institute Curator-led tour of Southbound

Feb 21-23 The Eudora Welty Society presents an international conference: “The Continuous Thread of Revelation: Eudora Welty Reconsidered. Daytime panels are in Stern Center Ballroom Feb 21 and in EHHP Alumni Center Feb 22 and 23. Sponsored by English Department, WGST, HSS, and Southern Studies. Free to C of C community; click here to register.  Others should register for the conference at eudoraweltysociety.org.

Feb 21. 5:30-7:30 pm Stern Center Ballroom, “Charleston Writers Discuss Their Beginnings  with Josephine Humphreys, Harlan Greene, Michele Moore, Marcus Amaker. Part of Eudora Welty Society conference.

Feb 22, 6:15 pm, EHHP Alumni Center, Dramatic reading of Eudora Welty’s “Moon Lake”  Part of Eudora Welty Society conference.



under: Uncategorized

MLK Day Parade: Helping Us See Ourselves

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | January 21, 2019 | No Comment |


Spectators at Marion Square for MLK Day Parade, 1.21.19

Charleston Area Justice Ministry members wait their turn to join parade.

Today was a chance for us to see each other.  A parade can’t do the hard work of building and re-building the beloved community. But it can help if it shows us that we’re “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” as today’s honoree wrote in 1963. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He also wrote, “One day the South will recognize its real heroes. . . . One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream.”

At today’s parade, marchers and spectators kept waving to each other. “Happy King Day!” everyone said. “Keep the dream alive!” some people added. Nobody seemed to get tired of waving. In the group I was marching with, people occasionally called out to friends they recognized along the way, but most of the day’s greetings were between strangers. Our common denominator:  thinking this parade was something worth showing up for.

We were seeing each other in our beautiful city– un-flooded for the time being, high-end condo construction projects casting shadows over Upper King Street, kids in our group running out to give candy to spectators, the Burke High School band putting spring in everyone’s steps.

We were seeing the city and the region, what we are and what we can become. Multicultural, diverse, dynamic, oddly hopeful. In need of so much repair.

That’s the South I study—the region I care about, pay attention to, strive to understand more deeply.

Happy King Day; keep the dream alive.

Julia Eichelberger, Director, Program in Southern Studies


under: C of C Program in Southern Studies, Charleston, Social Activism in the South

Symposium, “Public Memory in the New South”

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | January 7, 2019 | No Comment |
A great line-up of events this week, sponsored by the Halsey Gallery in connection with the photography exhibit “Southbound” now in the Halsey and at City Gallery.
Lecture by Sheila Pree Bright, 7 pm Friday, “#UNAPOLOGETIC” (Bright’s photography documents Black experiences including recent Black Lives Matter protests. Her visit is jointly sponsored by the Avery’s Race and Social Justice Initiative & supported by the Sustainability Literacy Institute.
Saturday symposium “Public Memory in the New South,” including historians Adam Domby, Thomas Brown, & Thavolia Glymph, IAAM director of education Brenda Tindal, and 4 photographers whose work is in Southbound: Jeanine Michna Bales, Jessica Ingram, Anderson Scott, and Eliot Dudik. Symposium is 10-4 with a lunch break from 12-2.
Lecture by Michael Arad, 7 pm Saturday “Memory in the Public Realm: Making the Past Present” (designer of the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center, now designing a memorial for Emanuel AME Church)
All events are open to the public. Hope to see you there!
under: Uncategorized

Guest Lecturer: Nathalie Dupree

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | November 24, 2018 | No Comment |

Photo by Heather Moran

Many thanks to Nathalie Dupree, cookbook author and biscuit maker extraordinaire, for spending an afternoon with my Intro to Southern Studies students last week. Her demonstration of biscuit making provided many helpful pointers as well as some delicious biscuits hot from the oven in the kitchen of McAlister Residence Hall.

Photo by Heather Moran

She told students that flour grown in the South is a softer flour, necessary for a tender biscuit. Southern flour brands use names like “Lily White” and “Martha White” to promote their bleached flour, which Ms. Dupree also prefers. (A whole wheat biscuit, something I said I once enjoyed baking, is “an oxymoron.”) Northern flours are better for making bread, whereas all-purpose flours like Pillsbury Gold Medal work for both bread or biscuit baking, but produce a less-than-ideal version of either, according to Ms. Dupree.

The recipe she demonstrated included two parts self-rising Southern bleached flour and one part heavy cream. It’s not just a matter of measuring; flour behaves differently each time, so bakers must feel the dough as it gets wetter, while stirring as little as possible. The best way to do this is to use a large, wide bowl. Ms. Dupree had brought along her own shallow wooden bowl, noting that once upon a time, “Everybody’s grandmother had a biscuit bowl.” She explained that when using soft flour, one can make a well in the flour and pour in the cream, which will sit on top of the flour while the flour is gently mixed from the outside in. Good bakers have a feel for the right consistency of the dough, which takes practice.

Photo by Heather Moran, The College Today

To roll out the biscuit dough, Ms. Dupree used a method she’s developed after traveling to many sites demonstrating her biscuit making. Rather than a rolling pin, she used two flexible cutting board sheets to press the dough to the desired thinness. Next she folded the flexible sheet in half, then again from the other direction, making four layers of dough that could be flattened back to the original thinness with the second cutting board sheet. This should be done at least three times to create layers in the dough.

She baked these biscuits at 450 degrees for 20 minutes before checking on their progress and turning the pan around to get a more even bake. All bakers must learn how their particular oven cooks—no matter how big & fancy, or small and inexpensive, the oven (and the small pan for today’s biscuits could’ve fit into a countertop oven). Only trial and error will enable you to discover the right temperature and time for your home oven.

As students began mixing another batch of dough, Ms. Dupree encouraged everyone not to be afraid of making mistakes at home.. She opined that Southern women, in particular, believe that “they are a failure if they cannot make biscuits the first time. . . People still assume that a woman is born, coming out of the womb, holding a biscuit bowl.”

She advised students to “spend ten dollars on ingredients for biscuits” and make a lot of batches, using different recipes. By the time you’ve used all those ingredients,  “you will make a biscuit that you can live off the rest of your life.”

One final tip: “If you have leftover biscuits, you can melt butter in a pan and fry ‘em up.”













under: C of C Program in Southern Studies, Courses, Foodways, Students

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