header image

Lessons from and for a changing South

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | December 15, 2017 | No Comment |

Military exercises are conducted in Marion Square in Charleston, South Carolina, with the Calhoun Monument at left, circa. 1907. Library of Congress/Detroit Publishing Co.

Part 6 & last for 2017 in the series “What We’re Saying About the South.”

This fall Harlan Greene (head of Special Collections) and Bernard Powers (History) have been serving on a city commission charged with revising the wording on Charleston monuments. The proposed new wording of the Calhoun monument, as reported this week in the Post and Courier, would tell visitors that the statue towering over Marion Square “remains standing today as a reminder that many South Carolinians once viewed Calhoun as worthy of memorialization even though his political positions included his support of race-based slavery, an institution repugnant to the core ideas and values of the United States of America.”

Harlan Greene

A year ago, Harlan Greene–novelist, historian, and native Charlestonian–was talking about our city’s past and future to a Post and Courier writer, in an interview that continues to resonate. One particularly memorable comment: “Some traditions need to die to have other ones rise in their place. They will.”

We expect and hope that in the coming year, those who study the South will be sharing more of their expertise and insights with the public. So we’ll keep readers posted on what we say about the South in 2018.

under: Charleston, Charleston History, Markers, Monuments, Uncategorized

Studying the City

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | December 13, 2017 | No Comment |

Grant Gilmore

Notecards based on Ralph Muldrow’s watercolors.

Part 5 of “What We’re Saying About the South.” Grant Gilmore (Historic Preservation) is eagerly promoting the College’s new program in Community Planning, Policy, and Design.

Ralph Muldrow

Ralph Muldrow (Art and Architectural History) has created watercolors of the Porgy Houses that were decorated in honor of the 2016 Spoleto production of Porgy and Bess.

Karen Chandler

Arts Management professor and program director Karen Chandler talked to Art Mag about her research on Charleston’s jazz heritage.

A study sponsored by the Race and Social Justice Initiative, released this fall, documents in sobering detail the racial disparities that currently exist in the Charleston area. Patricia Williams Lessane (Director of the Avery Research Center) and John White (Dean of Libraries), coprincipals of RSJI, commissioned the study.

John White

Patricia Williams Lessane



under: Charleston, Charleston History, Faculty, Historic Buildings, Music, Racial Disparities

Tracking down lesser-known Southern histories

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | December 11, 2017 | No Comment |


Interview in The Metropole

Part 4 of “What We’re Saying About the South.” History professor Tammy Ingram, who is on sabbatical this year, was interviewed recently about her research on organized crime in Phenix City, Alabama. Dr. Ingram is also the author of the award-winning Dixie Highway: Road Building and the Making of the Modern South, 1900-1930 (2014, UNC Press).

Dale Rosengarten

Dale Rosengarten, Curator of the Jewish Heritage Collection, recently published “Sanctified by War: A Tale of Two Silver Bowls” in Southern Cultures.  Dr. Rosengarten has authored and edited numerous works on Southern history and culture, including A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life and Row Upon Row: Sea Grass Baskets of the Carolina Lowcountry. This fall, when visiting an Intro to Southern Studies class, she discussed this recent essay as well as some of her earliest historical research that began while she was an undergraduate–when she and Ted Rosengarten first met an Alabama sharecropper whose oral history would become an award-winning book, All God’s Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw.


under: Alabama History, Faculty, Southern Jewish History

Southern Lit faculty talk about Poe and “To Kill a Mockingbird”

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | December 9, 2017 | No Comment |

Scott Peeples

Julia Eichelberger







In our 3rd post in the series “What We’re Saying About the South,” English professors give interviews on two Southern literary icons, Edgar Allan Poe and Harper Lee. Dr. Scott Peeples, who’s published numerous books and articles on Poe, spoke to SC ETV  this fall about Poe and his time spent in the Charleston area. A new American Masters documentary on Poe, “Buried Alive,” which aired this fall, included Dr. Peeples among other experts interviewed about Poe’s life and work. The new documentary doesn’t explore the period when Poe lived on Sullivan’s Island, though. If you want to learn more about that, you’ll enjoy Professor Peeples’s recent essay on Poe and the Lowcountry in Southern Cultures, which includes beautiful photos by C of C photography professor Michele Van Parys.

In response to October news stories about a Mississippi school district banning To Kill A Mockingbird, a Malaysian radio station asked Dr. Julia Eichelberger to share her thoughts on Harper Lee’s novel and the challenges and opportunities that arise when discussing racism in a classroom. You can hear her interview on the podcast “From the Forbidden Bookshelf” (find her portion of the interview at about 18 minutes into the program.)

Photography by Michelle Van Parys

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

What have Gibbs Knotts, Shari Rabin, Mike Lee, Matthew Cressler, and Joe Kelly been saying and writing lately?  Part 2 of “What We’re Saying About the South.”

Shari Rabin

Gibbs Knotts

Mike Lee

Joe Kelly

Matthew Cressler

By Gibbs Knotts

By Shari Rabin

By Mike Lee






Gibbs Knotts (Political Science) discussed the November elections in South Carolina. This fall Professor Knotts has been teaching his “Southern Politics,” this fall, and he visited the Intro to Southern Studies class to discuss his recent book, The Resilience of Southern Identity: Why the South Still Matters in the Minds of Its People.

Shari Rabin, who teaches courses on Southern Jewish history and directs the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for the Study of Jewish Culture, wrote an op-ed for the Post & Courier with Joshua Shanes about a bill before the South Carolina legislature. Dr. Rabin and has just published Jews on the Frontier: Religion and Mobility in Nineteenth-Century America with NYU press.

Communication professor Mike Lee spoke at MIT about the topic of his recent book, conservatism in public discourse. Professor Lee received two national awards for this book. In November he talked to the Southern Studies Working Group about his new work in progress, a book on the concept of secession in American political discourse.

By Matthew Cressler

Matthew Cressler (Religious Studies), who specializes in African American religions and who recently taught a course on “Interfaith Atlanta,” recently discussed Black Power and black Catholics in the Atlantic and on the NYU Press blog. His book, Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration, was just published by NYU Press.

By Joe Kelly

Joe Kelly (English, Irish & Irish-American Studies) wrote an op-ed about 21st Century South Carolina residents and the Heritage Act. Dr. Kelly, author of numerous works on Irish literature as well as the book America’s Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Slow March Toward Civil War, will soon be publishing a book on Americans’ interpretations of colonial Jamestown, castaways, and maroons.




under: C of C Program in Southern Studies, Ideologies, Politics, Religion in the South

Sites of Memory & What We Remember There

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | November 28, 2017 | No Comment |

For the next two weeks, as Fall 2017 comes to a close, we’ll share some recent interviews, news features, op-eds, lectures, etc. by members of C of C’s Program in Southern Studies who help the public learn more about the region.  There are lots of examples to share! Once we get through some of the highlights of the past year or so, we’ll continue to issue updates and collect them under “What We’re Saying About the South.”

Part 1: Sites of Memory & What We Remember There

In our first set of examples, Southern Studies faculty join ongoing conversations about what kinds of history we should remember, and how best to share these stories with our communities.

Assistant Professor of History Adam Domby

Professor of History Bernard Powers

In August 2016, Adam Domby and Bernard Powers appeared with other historians in a Post & Courier article on Confederate monuments. Adam Domby also wrote a recent op-ed for the State newspaper on Reconstruction-era monuments. Bernard Powers, who’s also published separately on Charleston’s monuments, is now serving on the Charleston History Commission, considering how the markers on our city’s public monuments should be rewritten, as this article reports.

In June 2017, before the tragic events of Charlottesville pushed the issue of Confederate monuments into the national headlines, many Southern Studies faculty were talking about how we should remember our shared and often painful past. Academics and community members participated in these conversations during an international conference on “Transforming Public History,” organized by the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program, the Avery Research Center, the Addlestone Library, and the Race and Social Justice Initiative. It was an inspiring conference, chock-full of passionate participants from near and far, including many prominent scholars and public historians. Lonnie Bunch, the director of the Smithsonian’s new African American Museum, delivered a keynote address at Emanuel AME.

under: African American Studies, C of C Program in Southern Studies, Charleston History, Markers, Monuments, Uncategorized

Michele Moore, Author of The Cigar Factory, On Campus 11.1 & 11.2

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | October 27, 2017 | No Comment |

On Wed 11.1 Michele Moore, author of The Cigar Factory: A Novel of Charleston, will discuss how she researched and wrote her 2016 novel. Also present for discussion will be members of the cast of a play based on Part One of the novel, Sounds of the Cigar Factory, which premiered at Piccolo Spoleto 2016. 

The presentation will be in Education Center 118 at 6 pm on Wednesday Nov 1. Booksigning and reception will follow in ECTR 116. All are welcome!

On Thursday Nov 2, Michele Moore will hold two public Q & A sessions. Students taking courses on Charleston writers will attend, along with creative writing students and anyone else who’s interested. The first session runs from 12:15-1:30 and the second runs from 1:40-2:55. Both are in the Stern Center, room 207.

These events are sponsored by C of C’s Department of English, the Office of the First-Year Experience, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and the Program in Southern Studies. We hope to see you there!


under: Uncategorized

Uplift and Activism at the Avery

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | October 24, 2017 | No Comment |

Barrye Brown

I am pleased to contribute a post to the Southern Studies blog.  For those new to the College of Charleston community and Southern Studies, I would like this post to serve as an introduction to the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and to highlight some of its archival collections and educational outreach endeavors. The Center, now part of the College of Charleston library system, is located on 125 Bull Street on the site of the former Avery Normal Institute, a school established in 1865 for African Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. The word “Normal” in the title indicates that the school provided additional teacher training and college preparatory courses for students interested in becoming educators. From 1865 to 1964, this historic secondary school trained African American students for professional careers and leadership roles, and served as a hub for Charleston’s African American community.

The very existence of an Institute to educate African Americans during this time period was a revolutionary act against the forces of white supremacy.

Before 1865, South Carolina laws severely restricted educational opportunities for enslaved men, women, and children. A Slave Code passed in 1740 made it a crime to teach enslaved people to read and write. By the nineteenth century, local authorities in Charleston allowed free people of color to attend informal private schools throughout the city, and some enslaved children managed to join these classes without reprimand. Still, private schools founded by Northern missionaries during Reconstruction, including the Avery Normal Institute, served as the first in Charleston to legally offer a formal education to the city’s Black residents. For Black Charlestonians, the struggle to obtain quality education began during slavery and continued through the Reconstruction period into the twentieth century civil rights era. This struggle persists today. Avery’s history serves as a testimony of these ongoing efforts, and of the achievements of its leaders and graduates who overcame daunting obstacles to become influential teachers, professionals, and activists in the South Carolina Lowcountry and beyond.[i]

The early founders of the Avery Normal Institute recognized the power of education as a transformative force for racial and social uplift. They envisioned that the ideal of education would lead the way towards self-determination and a more equitable society in the face of injustice.

Despite the closing of Avery as a school in 1954, this ideal continued to live on in the desires of former Avery students to continue the educational legacy of Avery as a research center.    In 1985, a committed group of Avery Normal Institute alumni worked with the College of Charleston to establish the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.

Esau Jenkins (center), Alfred Fields (right), and Rev. Willis Goodwin (left) in front of the Citizens Committee Bus.

Today, the  Center is home to over two hundred manuscript collections, over six thousand printed items, over four thousand photographs, and hundreds of reels of microfilm, audiovisual materials, clipping files, and digital formats. Its mission is to collect, preserve, and promote the unique history and culture of the African Diaspora, with a specific emphasis on Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. The bulk of our collections are post-1865 and our collecting strengths are family papers, black schools and education, organizational and institutional records, church records, women’s collections, African American businesses, artisan records, and last but certainly not least, 20th century Civil Rights collections.

In late spring of 2015, the Avery and the Lowcountry Digital Library were awarded an 18-month grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) to digitize, describe, and make accessible online, a portion of Civil Rights archival collections held by the Avery.  The collections featured on the Lowcountry Digital Library are as follows:

  • Septima P. Clark Papers, ca. 1910-ca. 1990                  
  • Anna D. Kelly Papers, 1930s – 1999
  • Bernice Robinson Papers, 1920-1989                              
  • Isaiah Bennett Papers, ca. 1932-2002
  • Esau Jenkins Papers, 1963-2003                                          
  • Eugene C. Hunt Papers, 1834 – 1994
  • Cleveland Sellers, Jr. Papers, 1934-2003                        
  • Millicent E. Brown Papers, 1949 – 2003
  • Arthur Brown Papers, 1937 – 1988
  • Book Lovers’ Club, 1927 – 1969
  • YWCA of Greater Charleston, Inc., Records, 1906 – 2007                
  • Charleston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Papers, 1920-1995

Dr. Millicent E. Brown, the first black student to desegregate Rivers High School in Charleston, SC.

When studying the Civil Rights Movement, Charleston, SC is not always the first city that comes to mind. These collections provide insight into the significant role of leaders and organizations from Charleston, South Carolina and the surrounding Lowcountry region during the Civil Rights Movement, as well as enhance scholarly and public awareness of the civil rights movement in South Carolina. They also provide insight into influential elements of the National Civil Rights Movement that are often overlooked in popular representations, and have increasingly become the focus of 20th century civil rights scholarship. These topics include the importance of activism in the early and later stages of the mid-twentieth century movement; the significance of female activists; the crucial role of local grassroots networks and organizations in implementing the goals of the national movement; the impact of class divisions within African American communities on civil rights organizing; and the significance of activism for labor rights as well as racial equality. Local, national, and international scholars frequently engage the Avery Research Center Archives as one of the only archives dedicated to African American history and culture in the region.

During its time as a school and its current iteration as a research center, the Avery has always embodied a philosophy of social uplift through education and grassroots activism.  We continue that philosophical and historical legacy through our archival collections, museum exhibitions, and public programming, as well as continuing to serve as an educational resource to the College of Charleston community and beyond.

Bernice Robinson (standing left) and Septima Clark (standing right) teaching Citizenship School class.

To access our digital collections on the Lowcountry Digital Library, please click the following link: http://lcdl.library.cofc.edu/contributing-institution/avery-research-center

Photos courtesy of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, USA.

Barrye Brown is the Reference and Outreach Archivist at the Avery Research for African American History and Culture.  She is responsible for handling Avery’s reference and research requests, providing access to its collections, as well as promoting awareness and usage of its digital and physical collections.  She works as part of a team to support research, teaching, and learning at the College of Charleston.  

[i]  Battle, Mary and Curtis J. Franks. “Avery: The Spirit That Would Not Die, 1865 – 2015.” Lowcountry Digital History Initiative. http://ldhi.library.cofc.edu/exhibits/show/avery/averyintro.


under: African American Studies, Charleston History, Social Activism in the South

Southern Jews: Privilege and Vulnerability

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | October 9, 2017 | No Comment |

Shari Rabin

What does it tell us that the two most famous Jews in southern history are Judah Benjamin (1811-1884) and Leo Frank (1884-1915)? One rose to become a leading political figure of the Confederacy, while the other was lynched by an angry mob in Marietta, Georgia. First, it tells us something about the dynamics of historical memory, which is so often drawn to the exceptional and unique, to the highest heights and the lowest lows. Individually, the stories of Benjamin and Frank offer powerful arguments, in the first case, for the success and influence of southern Jews, and in the second, for their perilous and perpetual difference. Each gives us a different image of the South: the first highlights its tolerance, the second, its prejudice.

How can both of these historical narratives be true? How have Jews managed to be both privileged and vulnerable, political powerbrokers and targets of hate crimes? And what can this tell us about our current moment, when Jews occupy positions of power in the White House and, as in Charlottesville, are targets of neo-Nazi intimidation?

Judah Benjamin

This dichotomy can be explained in part by particular historical contexts. Judah P. Benjamin spent his childhood in Charleston, where there was a cosmopolitan, long-established, and well-to-do Jewish community. Although there were some hiccups – Sunday closing laws and Christian oaths for office-holders were perpetually frustrating – for the most part, in a city that was majority black, Jews were seen as white citizens. They went to a different church, but were acceptable as political leaders and even marriage partners. Benjamin himself was a slave-owner, married a Catholic woman and was elected to political office in Louisiana in 1842, later going on to serve as a United States Senator. When the Civil War broke out, he was asked to serve as attorney general, Secretary of War, and finally as Secretary of State of the Confederacy.

Leo Frank

By the 1910s much had changed, despite Jews’ long residence in the South and their widespread support of the Confederacy. Jewish migration, first from the North and then from Eastern Europe, led to unfavorable associations of Jews with “carpetbaggers” and with foreigners. New forms of popular racial thinking argued that Jews were not white, but belonged to a distinct racial group that, at worst, was out to destroy white, Protestant civilization. When a white Christian woman was found murdered in the pencil factory where Leo Frank was superintendent, he was accused by a black employee and quickly became the primary suspect. He was convicted of the crime and when his sentence was commuted to life in prison, he was dragged from his prison cell and lynched, the only Jew in southern history murdered by a method deployed upon thousands of African American men after Reconstruction and into the twentieth century.

These stories – both of which are much more complicated in their full accounting – have wildly different climaxes and yet they are not as different as they appear. Benjamin, despite his power, was the target of anti-Semitic speech and sentiment, if not action. And Frank, a Texas native and successful businessman, was arguably just as “southern” as Benjamin, who was born in the Caribbean. Both Benjamin and Frank benefited from the privilege of whiteness, but also recognized how provisional and uncertain it could be. Many other less famous southern Jews also learned this lesson as they went about building their synagogues, businesses, and everyday lives. They too found that Jews were often most accepted when they were seen as (white) members of a particular religious faith and faced trouble when they were seen as a permanently different racial group for which even conversion offered little hope. These categorizations were more and less common among certain people and at certain times, but to some extent they always coexisted and continue to coexist today. Southern history, then, is not only a story of acceptance and success for Jews, nor is it solely a story of anti-Semitism and discrimination. Rather, southern Jewish history, from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement to Charlottesville, is a story of Jews responding to and grappling with their distinctive forms of difference and the paradox of privilege and vulnerability they have occasioned.

Shari Rabin is Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and director of the Pearlstine/Lipov Center for Southern Jewish Culture. 

Interested in learning more? In addition to her course, JWST 315, Southern Jewish History, Professor Rabin recommends these sources:

Marci Cohen Ferris and Mark I. Greenberg, Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History

Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates

Eli N. Evans, Judah P. Benjamin: The Jewish Confederate

Jonathan D. Sarna and Adam Mendelsohn, eds. Jews and the Civil War: A Reader

Leonard Dinnerstein, The Leo Frank Case

Jeffrey Paul Melnick, Black-Jewish Relations on Trial: Leo Frank and Jim Conley in the New South

The docu-drama The People v. Leo Frank (2009), is available on Youtube

under: Uncategorized

The 21st century South Carolinian is no longer Confederate

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | October 2, 2017 | No Comment |

Joe Kelly

I am kudzu.

My great-grandparents left Ireland in the 1880s. I was born in New York and was already 15 when my parents put up our sign, Gone to Texas. I cannot join the Sons of Confederate Veterans, because I have no “direct or collateral family lines and kinship to a veteran.”

I believe there were soldiers whose suffering and sacrifice deserve respect, and I salute my friends who cherish the memory of the old gray uniform in their attics. But I dispute the Sons of Confederate Veterans when they say Johnny Reb fought for “the preservation of liberty and freedom.” The mute eloquence of a slave badge at the Charleston Museum does more than I can to expose the folly of romanticizing the “cause.”

Yet like kudzu — and barbecue and peaches — I am just as Southern as the purest blood-descendant of Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard.

In fact, most Southerners either cannot or will not qualify for membership in the Sons of Confederate Veterans, or even the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which admits the descendants of those who gave even the slightest “Material Aid to the Cause.”

In 2016, 31.5 percent of South Carolinians were black, Asian, Hispanic or Native American. And while most African-Americans have white ancestors, few join the Sons.

That leaves the white folks, 68.5 percent, who might have roots in the Confederacy. But how many actually do?

The U. S. Census Bureau does not clearly track migration from state to state, but the University of Minnesota’s Population Center has crunched the data: A hundred years ago, the university reports, 95 percent of South Carolinians were born here. (New York Times published this data.) Today, only 58 percent are natives. Three percent are like me — born in New York; 5 percent come from the mid-West, and 4 percent are foreign-born. Altogether, 20 percent of white South Carolinians started from places that make it unlikely they’d qualify for the Confederacy’s Sons or Daughters.

So now we’re up to more than 45 percent of South Carolinians who either are people of color or came from outside the South.

NYT graphic showing where South Carolinians come from

That doesn’t include my own children, native Southerners whose ancestors were Northerners, or any natives whose ancestors moved to the South after 1865. This means the portion of Southern whites who cannot claim “direct or collateral family lines and kinship” to rebels is far more than 20 percent. With all the Northern flight South, it’s obvious that most S.C. bloodlines no longer trace back to the Confederacy.

One might object that plenty of transplants romanticize the Confederacy. Just look at all those Ohioans who came down to Charlottesville. True enough. But as Gibbs Knotts and Christopher Cooper demonstrate in their new book, The Resilience of Southern Identity, when white Southerners become better educated (as they do in each generation), they tend to stop identifying with Confederates. And young white Southerners do not romanticize the cause as much as their parents do. These folks more than cancel out the romanticizing Northerners.

What all of this means is that those who still revere the Confederacy — let us take Catherine Templeton as an example — suffer from an outsized notion of themselves.

“We’re standing on the shoulders of giants,” Templeton said, referring to her Confederate forebears. “And that’s why we are who we are, where we are.”


Templeton was talking to the Republican Party of Pickens County, and perhaps her audience on that day actually was largely of Confederate descent. But the fact is that when Templeton says we, she’s talking about a minority: white Confederate romantics.

GOP meeting in Pickens, SC

It’s easy to see how she makes this mistake. People who qualify for the Sons of Confederate Veterans are far over-represented in the halls of power. They ran the General Assembly as Democrats until Northern Democrats championed civil rights. Now they run it as Republicans.

Deep down, they sense they are a dwindling minority. Just look at how they run scared of majority rule. Leave aside gerrymandering, the disenfranchisement of minorities, how hard it is for college students to vote; consider simply the Heritage Act.

If most Charlestonians wanted to rename Calhoun Street after Mother Emanuel, Pickens County would stop us. So long as Confederate romantics retain a mere 34 percent of either the House or the Senate, they can force Charleston to continue honoring the architects of white supremacy. Forget about taking Calhoun off his pedestal. Without the go-ahead from Pickens County and its like-minded romantics, the most we can do is slap a new plaque near the thing, proclaiming, “This statue was erected at the dawn of Jim Crow to intimidate black Charlestonians.”

The Heritage Act was championed by then-Sen. Glenn McConnell, whom I’ve learned to respect since he became my boss a few years ago. So I take it on faith that it meant simply to prevent the situation in which we swap out our public monuments every time control shifts in the Legislature.

Prudence, indeed, dictates that statues and long-established street names should not be changed for light and transient causes.

But when an act of government obstructs the considered and reasoned will of the majority, and subjects all of the people to the will of an antiquated minority, that act must be abolished.

Repeal the Heritage Act.

Dr. Kelly is director of Irish and Irish American studies and a member of the English Department at the College of Charleston. This essay was first published last month in the Columbia, SC State newspaper.


under: Uncategorized

Older Posts »


Skip to toolbar