CofC Logo
Ask the Cougar

CSSC Faculty Studying Slavery: Mary Jo Fairchild

By Danielle Cox
Posted on 10 September 2021 | 12:00 pm — 
A headshot of Mary Jo Fairchild

This post, written by Mary Jo Fairchild, is one of a series that documents work studying slavery by faculty members of the CSSC.

As an archivist and historian, I gravitate towards projects that leverage research and interrogation of historic records to support and uplift social justice-oriented community work. Working with the research committee of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston (CSSC)  gives me the opportunity to flex and engage both of these seemingly disparate devotions.

I remember the first time I began researching the College of Charleston’s ties to slavery and oppression. It was 2010 or so and I had recently completed graduate course work in American History with an emphasis on African American History at the College of Charleston. Not long after, I was appointed the Director of Archives and Research for the oldest and largest private archive in the state, the South Carolina Historical Society. My daily duties revolved around operating a bustling reading room, where students, community members, and scholars would visit and subsequently spend hours examining historic letters, diaries, newspapers, ledgers, images, maps, pamphlets and more. Very quickly I became adept at connecting a researcher with a document or record stored in one of the crowded vaults that might help answer the question that brought them to the archives.   

Of course, I had questions of my own and on one quiet afternoon, I fired up the old microfilm machine in the back of the library to examine capitation tax records for clues about the identity of a person named Tom Peace, whose name appears in the minutes of the Board of Trustees in several instances throughout the 19th century.  At his death at “about 75 or more years” of age in 1887, the Board of Trustees published a tribute to “Old Tom, the janitor” which included the fact that Tom “boasted that he had Indian blood in his veins and his physiognomy justified the claim.” 1

A page with newspaper clippings and handwritten text announcing the death of Tom Peace

Let me pause here for a moment. Capitation tax records deserve what Shereen Marisol Maraji and Gene Demby, hosts of NPR’s Code Switch podcast (consider this a HUGE plug for one of my favorite podcasts!), call a brief explanatory comma. Prior to emancipation, free persons of color in the city of Charleston were required to pay an annual “capitation tax” or head tax. Basically, free Black people (also referred to as free persons of color in the antebellum South) had to pay the city for their “free” status. Since the white ruling class could not benefit directly from the unpaid labor of free persons of color, they enacted an ordinance that taxed them to make up for the profits they would generate if enslaved, the default status of Black people in antebellum the South. The records include the names, ages, occupations, real estate holdings, and more for free Black people living in Charleston from 1811 to 1860. It is essential to acknowledge that the original purpose for keeping records for capitation taxes was rooted in the subjugation of Black lives. Nearly 300 years later, the words on the page provide the inheritors of the records with a valuable source for learning more about individuals who occupied what CSSC’s own Executive Director Bernard Powers calls an “anomalous” status, completely “dictated by the region’s commitment to slavery” in his monograph Black Charlestonians, A Social History, 1822-1855. 2

Examination of capitation tax records yielded no direct information about Tom Peace, although starting in 1845 there is a woman named Isabella Peace listed. By 1850 and 1852, the records indicate Isabella Peace was living on “St. Philip’s street near George” and at the “corner of College and George”, respectively. Both of these locations are at the heart of the college campus. I began to speculate. Was it possible that Isabella was some kin or relation to Tom Peace?

A black and white microfilm scan listing the names and streets of several individuals, including Isabella Peace of St. Philip Street

A decade after I first found Isabella Peace in the capitation tax records, I am now an archivist in Special Collections at the College of Charleston and work regularly with the College’s archives; so, not long ago I picked up the research thread I still held in the back of my mind for Tom Peace and decided to look a bit deeper. I followed financial transactions and discovered that the Treasurer of the College, Charles Fraser, was making regular monthly payments for “Tom’s wages” to a woman named Anne Wagner starting in 1829.

A handwritten receipt for $30 paid by Charles Fraser to Ann Wagner on 13 July 1829.

Could this be the Tom Peace to whom the Board of Trustees paid tribute in 1887? It is certainly possible since Tom Peace was said to be 75 years of age at his death which would make him 17 years old in 1829. Furthermore, according to the Charleston City Directory published in 1830, Anne Wagner resided at 52 St. Philip Street – again, at the heart of campus in the antebellum era. Did Ann Wagner hire Tom’s labor to her neighbors at the College of Charleston? Could Isabella Peace listed in the capitation tax records have been Tom Peace’s daughter? The silences and omissions of the historical record leave us with more questions than answers. Had the labors of men and women like Tom and Isabella Peace been properly acknowledged, compensated, and valued, we would have more than a set of financial transactions to mark their lives. It is time to mark their names and publicly acknowledge their roles and contributions.

As I said at the top, I am frequently drawn to archival research projects but I learned how to wield historical research methods for racial justice from the many scholars of race and slavery I’ve worked with in the archives. Edda Fields-Black taught me about multi-generational Black kinship networks in the Sea Islands and Toni Carrier helped me understand how to help people trace their family history when their ancestors were enslaved. Darlene Clarke Hine taught me how to look for the contributions of Black women in the historic record when the white record-makers did everything they could to erase them and Andrea Williams brought her graduate students to the archives to experience how people of African descent, enslaved and free, are present in the archives if one looks close enough and reads the silences. Gerald Horne demonstrated how the rare published travel diaries in the archives offer important perspectives absent in business ledgers and diaries kept by enslavers and Rita Reynolds took me along her journey to tell the stories of free Black women living and working in South Carolina during the antebellum era. I poured over the pages of eighteenth century ledgers searching for the name of Priscilla, a young girl kidnapped from her home in West Africa and enslaved by members of the Ball family, scratched on a page in iron gall ink to help Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Edward Ball tell her story to a national audience.   

I am humbled to continue to use the skills I’ve learned over the years to participate and contribute to the mission and vision of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston. In solidarity with other entities and programs on campus including the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World program, the CSSC provides a platform and support for scholars, faculty, students, the larger community to collaboratively mine evidence from the past, both material, written, and what exists “in between the lines”, to demonstate how the College of Charleston would not exist as we know it without the contributions of people who were historically marginalized.


Sources

College of Charleston Archives, Historical Series. Special Collections and Archives, College of Charleston Libraries.

Powers, Bernard. Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1855. University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Farrell, Jessica. “History, Memory, and Slavery at the College of Charleston, 1785 – 1810.” Chrestomathy: Annual Review of Undergraduate Research Vol 7, 2008: pp. 52 – 71: https://chrestomathy.cofc.edu/documents/vol7/farrell.pdf

Rogers, Kaylee. “Overworked and Underpaid: ‘Black’ Work at the College of Charleston”. Chrestomathy: Annual Review of Undergraduate Research, Vol 7, 2008: pp. 227-247.

“South Carolina, Charleston, Free Negro Capitation Books, 1811-1860,” https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/3405101.

Charleston City Directories: https://www.ccpl.org/city-directories


Footnotes

  1. CofC Board of Trustees Minutes, April 1887.
  2. Powers, Black Charlestonians, pg. 36 -37.

CSSC Faculty Studying Slavery: Kameelah Martin

By Grayson Harris
Posted on 19 January 2021 | 10:47 am — 

This post, written by Kameelah Martin, is one of a series that documents work studying slavery by faculty members of the CSSC.

My scholarly expertise sits at the crossroads of African Diaspora literature(s), primarily of the US and Caribbean, Folklore and Black Feminist Studies. I define myself as a cultural studies scholar, but I am specifically trained in the African American literary and vernacular traditions with emphasis on twenty and twenty-first century prose. My interdisciplinary reach also involves broader interests such as film, popular culture, and African spiritualities.  Outside of the profession, I engage in genealogical research and acts of recalling ancestral memory. I am committed to the fields of African Diaspora Studies, Black Feminist Studies, Literature, Folklore, and Film Studies—all of my interests and expertise converge around the histories and legacies of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

It made sense, then, for me to accept a position to lead the African American Studies Program at the College of Charleston. The spiritual and historical significance of Charleston was what called me to apply for the position and I am humbled to be so deeply engaged in both academic work and the work of Spirit in the hallowed space of the port of entry for an estimated 40% of all of the enslaved Africans that entered this country. As I stand by the adage that “the personal is political,” I openly share that this work is not merely attached to my profession. My own paternal lineage finds its roots in nearby Williamsburg County, South Carolina. In 1825 an eight-year old enslaved boy “Cain” arrived in the Port of Charleston from Savannah, Georgia. I believe this to be the earliest record of Cain Cooper (b. 1817), my 5th great grandfather. And so, the work I undertake in support of CSSC is, in part, to honor my own Ancestors—the ones who rest in the Trouble Field community of Kingstree, South Carolina.

And the Ancestors have a funny way of affirming the work we do on their behalf. In 1998, as a sophomore in college I read Ntozake Shange’s novel Sassafras, Cypress, & Indigo (1982). The novel is set in Charleston, South Carolina of the 1960s. I fell in love with the youngest of the title characters, Indigo, who has “got earth blood, filled up with Geechees long gone, and the sea” (Shange 1). Never having set foot in Charleston, I vowed that if I ever bore a girl-child she would be named after my favorite novel! Well, twenty-years past before I found myself carrying that girl child—and living in Charleston, ironically. In the time between, I had studied the significance of indigo as a cash crop in the Low Country and the process of creating traditional Adire cloth in Nigeria. I had even procured a few indigo seeds from a former plantation on Ossabaw Island and successfully cultivated it (the Ancestors stay invokin’ cultural memory). I discovered that indigo was one of the sacred plants of the orisha Oshun, the Yoruba deity who has claimed my (spiritual) head. In doing spirit work with my Egun, I also discovered that indigo was the color my spirit guide wore when she walked the earth. All of this obsession with indigo was preparing me for bringing this unborn child into the world—unbeknownst to me. In the hazy, humid late afternoon of June 29, 2018 that unborn child, Indigo Amelia-Marie, made her debut in the Palmetto State—whose official state color is, of course, indigo. Her paternal lineage is “Geechee up”—to use the local parlance. Shange was right, it seems that “the slaves who were ourselves knew all about indigo & Indigo herself” (40). I stand ready for another lesson.

It has been my distinct privilege to honor the Egun with whom I  share a cultural memory and legacy during the City of Charleston’s Reinternment Ceremony for the African remains discovered at Anson Street. I spoke on behalf of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston and marched proudly as the city remembered and honored those 36 souls. Led by our beloved ‘Dr. O’ and the Gullah Society, the celebration of and spiritual rites performed for the Anson Street Burial Project is exactly the type of work I expect to be called to do while in Charleston. This is sacred work.

More to my professional endeavors, however, the subject I have privileged as a teacher-scholar explores the lore cycle of the conjure woman, or black priestess, as an archetype in literature and visual texts.  In 2012, Palgrave McMillan published my first monograph Conjuring Moments in African American Literature: Women, Spirit Work, & Other Such Hoodoo which engages how African American authors have shifted, recycled, and reinvented the conjure woman figure primarily in twentieth century fiction.

I also authored  Envisioning Black Feminist Voodoo Aesthetics: African Spirituality in American Cinema (Lexington 2016) which explores the treatment of the priestess figure in American cinema. My interest in film representations of black women engaged in ‘spirit work’ of the African Diaspora led me to co-edit a collection of essays, The Lemonade Reader on Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade (2016).

I’ve taught courses on the Gullah Geechee presence in African American Literature, Folklore of the African Diaspora, Voodoo & Visual Culture, and a new theory—“Conjure Feminism” that I am developing with my colleagues Kinitra D. Brooks (Michigan State University) and LaKisha M. Simmons (University of Michigan).

The conjure, hoodoo, and root medicine traditions of the US South are deeply entwined with the religious, healing, and metaphysical beliefs that enslaved Africans preserved from their ethnic origins on the continent. The conjure woman, I argue, has become a folk hero in the black imagination but to fully understand how that evolution happened I had to turn my attention to rigorous study of West African practices and the process of transculturation that took place at every settlement where enslaved Africans were held in bondage. To understand the African origins and function of practices such as the Ring Shout, making indigo dye, cooking red rice, or weaving sweetgrass baskets is to study and research the ways that enslaved Africans navigated their past with their present in the mundane, daily drudgery of their lives. This, too, is part of the important work being done through the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston and I am elated to add to the incredible work being done to foster a deeper understanding of the impact the institution of slavery has had on the everyday lives of people of African descent even in the 21st century.

CSSC Faculty Studying Slavery: Simon Lewis

By Grayson Harris
Posted on 27 October 2020 | 11:39 am — 

Simon Lewis, Professor & Speaker of the Faculty Senate at the College of Charleston

This post, written by Simon Lewis, is the first of a series that documents work studying slavery by faculty members of the CSSC.

I joined the English Department at CofC in August 1996 as an Assistant Professor of World Literature, specializing in African literature. From the outset of my time here I was fascinated by the history of Charleston and the depths of its connections with West Africa — not just through the brutal experience of slavery, but also as a result of other cultural connections and legacies visible and audible in architecturedesignlanguage and speech patternsmusic, and so on. In fact, one of the earliest pieces of writing I had published after coming here was a piece for the College magazine entitled “The Africanness of Charleston.”

Just before I arrived at CofC, the College had established a new interdisciplinary program known as the CLAW Program–the program in the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World. The program’s first directors set up the annual pattern of events that CLAW has put on pretty much ever since – with faculty seminars, guest lectures, panel sessions, film screenings each semester, plus, most years, an academic conference. Through this extensive programming I have gradually learned more and more about the history of the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World in general and the specific history of slavery and its legacy here in Charleston. I’m proud to have been an associate director and director of the program on and off since about 2000, and grateful to have been able to contribute to the program’s impressive scholarly output, which now includes more than 20 books published either in the USC Press Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World series or by other academic presses, including the University Press of Florida, Louisiana State University Press, the University Press of Mississippi, and Purdue University Press. The 2017 Hines Prize-winning manuscript (awarded for a first manuscript on a Carolina Lowcountry and/or Atlantic World topic) was published by Cambridge University Press.

Front cover of Simon Lewis & David Gleeson’s edited collection, The Civil War As Global Conflict: Transnational Meanings of the American Civil War

Many of these titles have derived from major international conferences, covering topics such as the impact of the Haitian Revolution, manumission, the banning of the international slave trade, and maroonage. Many of the conferences have had significant public involvement and outreach, perhaps none more so than the 2017 “Transforming Public History” conference, which featured a keynote lecture by Smithsonian Director Lonnie Bunch in the Mother Emanuel Church. The 2018 Reconstruction conference started with the unveiling of a historical marker on Meeting Street commemorating the remarkably progressive 1868 South Carolina Constitutional Convention. Earlier conferences had included the unveiling of the first “Bench by the Road” by Nobel Prize-winner Toni Morrison (2008), moving ceremonies in honor of the dead of the Middle Passage (2013), and in memory of the dead of the US Civil War (2015), the latter featuring a homily by State Senator, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, so viciously assassinated two months later.

Poster for the 2013 Jubilee Project, by SC artist Leo Twiggs.

My own role in all of these events has generally been that of something like an intellectual impresario, hosting and coordinating established scholars through series like the Wells Fargo Distinguished Public Lecture Series, but the experience has also influenced my own teaching and writing. In 2013, for instance, as an outgrowth of my coordination of the Jubilee Project SC, commemorating emancipation and educational access in Charleston in the 1860s and 1960s, I taught a graduate seminar on narratives of slavery. That course produced some stunning work by my students and gave me the material for an essay of my own on what it meant to teach such a course in Charleston, SC—Slavery Central.

Having forged partnerships and connections with institutions studying slavery around the world, the CLAW Program’s work valuably complements the work of the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston, and I am thrilled that the College is formally represented by the CSSC in the Universities Studying Slavery consortium.

If you are interested in learning more about slavery in an Atlantic World context, please spend some time on the CLAW website, and consider checking out the Addlestone Library’s compendious CLAW Libguide.

Bernie Powers and CSSC Executive Committee members will be part of a Critical Conversations event Oct 20, 3 pm. In this informal conversation moderated by Simon Lewis, CSSC director Bernie Powers and Julia Eichelberger, co-founder of the program in Southern Studies, will discuss race and the legacies of slavery at C of C and beyond. The current wave of activism and protest against racial injustice inspires us to reflect on the activism of the past that brought about the advances C of C and our society has made towards becoming more equitable. We will also discuss the ways both the Center for the Study of Slavery and the program in Southern Studies promote antiracism.

There are many intersections between the work of CSSC and other programs on campus—far too many for us to discuss in just an hour. Here are a few examples; in the future, we hope to follow up with more detailed posts on some of these projects.

Statements of Antiracism and CSSC’s Call for Social Justice

In response to summer protests over the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black citizens, departments and programs across campus posted statements of solidarity with the outrage and desire for change that these protests are expressing. These statements were posted on the Office of Institutional Diversity’s website. Later in the summer, CSSC’s Social Justice Working Group completed this Call to Action, a challenge to C of C to become more equitable and inclusive.

College of Charleston 250th Anniversary, Historical Documentation Committee, 2019-20

This group was responsible for the installation of a State Historical Marker on George Street that included recognition that the College became a private school in order to avoid integration. This marker was unveiled as part of the College’s Founders’ Day celebration on January 30, 2020. The committee also established the C of C website Discovering Our Past and researched 13 campus locations, most of which were directly linked to enslaved labor and African American history. In-person tours based on this material will be available post-pandemic. CSSC’s Academic Research Group has done signifincat research on the slave ownership of C of C past presidents and trustees, and this work formed a crucial part of the essays on Randolph Hall and the President’s House on Glebe Street. The website is available for ongoing publication of research by others, including the Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston. Graduate students in Rachel Donaldson’s Public History class researched and wrote dozens of essays that have been vetted by the CSSC’s Public History Working Group and are now being prepared for publication on the College’s Discovering Our Past website.

Gullah Society Reburial of Ancestors Interred near Gaillard Auditorium, May 2019

A grand procession carried the remains of African-descended individuals whose remains were discovered during renovations to the Gaillard grounds. DNA and isotope analysis revealed the areas of Africa where these individuals had most likely come from. DNA analysis was also done for living Charlestonians who wished to learn more about their genetic ancestry. The Center for the Study of Slavery’s Social Justice Working Group sponsored the start of the procession at Barnet Park, and Executive Committee member Kameelah Martin spoke at the ceremony. “Remembering Charleston’s Ancestors,” Post and Courier, May 3, 2019

Community Forum on Reparations  This was planned for March 2020 but cancelled due to the pandemic. A virtual event is being planned for Spring 2021.

Fortunately, the pandemic did not prevent the showing of an Avery Digital Classroom presentation giving detailed accounts of several other forms of research and public history work by CSSC and by others on campus.

The Hidden Hands That Built These Walls, a documentary produced by the Office of Institutional Diversity, will be screened this semester. It discusses Randolph Hall and the enslaved people who were crucial to its construction. CSSC members contributed research and were interviewed as part of the documentary.

A new initiative, the 1967 Scholars program, will begin in Fall 2021, providing scholarships and a four-year mentoring and leadership program for African American and African students.

Slavery and Its Legacies at the College of Charleston—Research and Teaching    Created in 2019, this list identifies scholarship and courses in which colleagues at C of C have studied slavery and its legacies. These legacies are widespread, so perhaps it is not surprising that as of June 2019, over sixty C of C faculty are listed as authors of relevant publications in the listings below, and that over forty-five faculty have been identified as teaching courses related to slavery and its legacies since Fall 2016. These publications and courses cover many aspects of slavery and its legacies–the history of slavery, the history of C of C and Charleston, racial identities and the construction of race in the U. S. and elsewhere; the experiences and cultural traditions of enslaved people and their descendants; connections between the diaspora and Africa, etc.  By identifying this scholarship and teaching, the Center for the Study of Slavery seeks to encourage C of C faculty and students to continue building upon each other’s work.

A Few Student Projects, 2018-present

ARTH 396. The Architecture of Memory, Nathaniel Walker  (2018, 2019) Students in this course have designed alternative monuments in tribute to those who suffered during Atlantic Slave trade, in response to the Calhoun statue and as a memorial on Anson Street burial ground  [Monument designs were displayed in library rotunda and exhibited at public events, including one associated with Gullah Society & Anson Street Burial.]

For several years, students in HPCP and AAST courses have conducted research on campus historic structures using property, census and city records. Some of this research was incorporated into the 2020 Discovering Our Past essays on these structures.

CSSC Executive Committee Member Celeste Green ‘21 researched several campus buildings named for slave-owners as part of an SGA presentation in April 2018. The SGA unanimously endorsed Green’s resolution that the campus create signage identifying the buildings that were constructed using slave labor, as proposed in 2017 by Grant Gilmore and the Program in Southern Studies.

Tanner Crunelle ‘20 researched C of C archives and created a new oratorical competition in honor of a 1951 speech by C of C student Frank Sturcken advocating for racial integration at C of C. Tanner published some of his research in “History of the Sturcken Oratorical Competition.”

Trent Humphreys and Keyasia Pride ‘20 researched the slaveholding records of several C of C leaders and proposed a monument, representing a bottle tree, to be installed on campus in honor of enslaved people who constructed campus buildings, entitled “The Hidden Hands that Built These Walls.”  They discuss their research and proposed monument in the Spring 2020  Avery Digital Classroom presentation

In Fall 2020, the Program in Southern Studies established “Markers & Names @ College of Charleston,” an online project on the map-based platform Historypin. This project is intended to document all the monuments, memorials, and named buildings on all C of C campus locations. It is also intended to spark more discussion and awareness of what the College commemorates and why. The public is invited to contribute images and information on these marked sites and to comment on why these events and people are being commemorated in our landscape. Anyone may participate by registering at Historypin and uploading new sites and posting comments and information about sites that have already been posted (“pinned”) to our collection.

Complementing these efforts are an upcoming course, HPCP 340, Buildings and Landscapes at C of C, to be taught Spring 201 by Professor James Ward, and a comprehensive inventory of all campus markers, monuments, plaques, etc. being developed by the Southern Studies program and our graduate assistant, Abby Stahl. We are eager to find collaborators to assist us as we photograph each marker, transcribe any text it contains, and research who put it in placeThis inventory will make it possible to analyze the demographics and concepts of our markers and help us decide what we want to commemorate in the future.

Call for Racial and Social Justice at C of C

By Julia Eichelberger
Posted on 21 September 2020 | 1:56 pm — 

Call for Racial and Social Justice at the College of Charleston

CSSC Social Justice Working Group

September 2020

As members of CSSC, which studies slavery’s history and legacies, we recognize this summer’s recent instances of brutality as manifestations of our country’s long history of violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. The histories of racism and white supremacy are clearly not past: we are still living them, and they are ever-present in our daily interactions and institutions. Because of this, the CSSC was established in 2018 to foster a deeper public understanding of slavery and its complex legacies, and to use that understanding to bring about racial reconciliation, healing, and repair. It is to this end that we demand reparations and social justice. 

We call upon the College to commit resources to promoting racial healing and repairing the systemic injustices created by slavery and racism on our campus and in our local community. Our policies, curriculum, and spending priorities must be intentionally and explicitly antiracist. 

In our new Strategic Plan, the College defines itself as a “transformative national university.” To transform our students, faculty/staff, and community, the College must prioritize all the “Initiatives for Implementation” in the Strategic Plan that address the inequities and injustices of systemic racism.  We also call upon the College to enable CSSC and other campus and community groups to play an active role in developing and implementing these initiatives and measuring the College’s progress.

We call upon upon the College to transform itself into a fully anti-racist and equitable campus by prioritizing the following: 

  1. Permanently fund the Center for the Study of Slavery to function as an educational resource and a thought-action leader. The College and the city of Charleston were built by enslaved bodies and souls. We must become conscious of our community’s true history. If the College sees the Center as a way of reckoning with the vestiges of slavery, as it was founded to do, then it is imperative for the Center to be adequately supported to carry out that mission of education, reconciliation, and repair.
  2. Require all College of Charleston students to study Charleston’s transnational history of slavery, colonialism, and race. Charleston’s history includes African, Caribbean, and European cultures and took shape in an indigenous America. Let’s be sure our students and community know this history, and its value to the present. We support the 2-course series proposed by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Creation of a Race, Equity, and Inclusion Requirement. To carry out this work, the College must provide increased funding for the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture and convert African American Studies from a program into a full department.
  3. Increase co-curricular opportunities for students to engage with the campus and community in pursuit of anti-racism and social and environmental justice. The College must increase substantive opportunities (internships, fellowships, etc) for students to engage in this work so that at least half of our students do so during their time at CofC.
  4. Bring the College’s Black student population up to at least 30% of the student body. The current population of Black students at this public university is only 8%. Meanwhile the African American population in the City of Charleston is 28%,  47% percent in North Charleston, and approximately 30% in the state of South Carolina.  The College of Charleston has an historical and moral duty to make the College representative of the entire Charleston community. We also must support students with a welcoming and inclusive campus environment and create much stronger connections with Black alumni. All this will demonstrate C of C’s 21st century commitment to Black lives and Black agency.
  5. Provide transformational financial support, in partnership with local and state government, in the form of student scholarships for Charleston residents of color in order to combat the underrepresentation of students of color on campus. The College, the city, and the state must make amends for the economic and social opportunities stolen away from people of African and indigenous descent. One example of the substantive support the College should provide is the McNair Scholars Program, which is designed to provide first generation and minority students with financial and academic support to prepare for graduate school. This program was originally launched at CofC in 2009-2010, but then was not successfully renewed.
  6. Transform the visual and memorial landscape of the campus by changing names and signage honoring slave owners, segregationists, and those who promoted racist policies, and by including visual recognitions of the contributions and achievements of African-descended people. As alumni and students have advocated, the College needs to create an inclusive and safe space for learning and educational exchange for the entire community. To support this, we also demand that the College commit to ongoing research on the history of its campus and publicize the full history of the structures and the people who built them. Students and faculty who do this research should receive institutional support and an appropriate forum for publishing their findings. Students, staff, and faculty should be free to publicly express their affiliation with organizations that uphold anti-racist values. The history and people we celebrate on campus should represent the anti-racist and anti-hate values we aspire to teach and live by.
  7. Require all College of Charleston employees to participate in substantive anti-racism training. These activities should shift the burden of unpacking and dismantling white privilege in the workplace away from our students, staff, and faculty of color (see Whiteness at Work webinar). Hourly and adjunct employees should be paid for their time spent undergoing such training.
  8. Prioritize hiring Black faculty and staff, so that these demographics reflect those of the state. It is important for all students to learn from faculty and staff from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds. A university in the modern world requires bringing unique ideas and experiences into contact and exchange.
  9. Elevate the status of the College’s primarily Black contracted staff in housekeeping, groundskeeping, maintenance, food services, security, and other essential campus services. College leadership can set the tone for the entire campus to recognize and empower these individuals. They perform labor that is fundamental to the College, and many have multi-generational ties to the campus. The College can include these employees in decision-making processes, publicly honor the work they do, and increase their participation in communal College life. The College should commit to improved wages and benefits, representation on staff committees, appropriate break spaces, and the free access to campus programming and events that other employees receive.
  10. Implement more socially-just policing practices. Identifying suspects based solely on race must end. Campus security and the local Charleston police force should release non-racialized reports and warnings to the College community.  The College’s Department of Public Safety should undergo an independent racial bias audit, similar to the one performed by CNA for the City of Charleston, and then commit to implementing its recommendations. Redirecting police funding to community outreach and community programming is essential to building trust between the university and its neighbors.

CSSC Social Justice Working Group: Jen Wright (chair), Lisa Covert, Matthew Cressler, Julia Eichelberger, Courtney Hicks, Blake Scott, Marjory Wentworth, Lisa Young.

CSSC Executive Board: Bernard Powers (director), Shannon Eaves, Julia Eichelberger, Grant Gilmore, Celeste Greene, Aaisha Haykal, Simon Lewis, Kameelah Martin.

Learn about two powerful African American women’s role in the SC suffrage movement in this Zoom lecture by Valinda Littlefield, Associate Professor of History, U of SC.  It’s happening on Aug 10 at 2 pm. Download the Sins of Omission Flyer for a link to register, or go to go.sc.edu/CASwebinars.

 

 

Before the pandemic, CSSC Social Justice Working Group had planned an all-day forum and community conversation on the topic of reparations to be held in late March. We will be rescheduling that event as soon as possible; meanwhile, the city council of Asheville, NC has formally “apologized for the North Carolina city’s historic role in slavery, discrimination and denial of basic liberties to Black residents and voted to provide reparations to them and their descendants.” Read the full story here.

Earlier this month, on July 6, CSSC Director Bernard Powers was interviewed on NPR. Go here to read or listen.

CSSC Director Bernard Powers co-authored this op-ed with local historian and attorney Robert Rosen suggesting a response to the city’s Confederate Defenders monument. “We propose a major world-class monument at White Point Garden to the African American heroes of the Civil War and the era of emancipation. We have many illustrious men and women to choose from.”

Dr. Powers and another C of C History professor, Adam Domby, are interviewed in this week’s Post and Courier podcast on John C. Calhoun and the monument that was removed on June 24, 2020 from Marion Square. Go here for a link to the podcast.  Charleston’s City Council has asked Dr. Powers and Robert Rosen to advise them on relocating the Calhoun statue, which is now being stored at an undisclosed location.

 

 

 

Many are reflecting on today’s 5-year anniversary of the massacre of nine members of Emanuel AME church on Calhoun Street, a few blocks from our campus. One of the nine was C of C librarian Cynthia Hurd, and Rev. Clementa Pinckney’s funeral was held on our campus in the TD Arena. The College Today has published a powerful interview with CSSC Director Bernard Powers, in which he reflects on the tragedy and the “legacy of hope” that is available to us today. Highlights of the interview are below. 

This is a congregation that has endured a history of severe trials – 2015 was just the most recent one. It is an example of a group of African Americans who have triumphed over a racist onslaught, and that triumph demonstrates that there are places where Dr. King’s vision of a “beloved community” still exists.

One has to have hope in order to embrace the future. They have demonstrated the motto of this state: Dum spiro spero – “While I breathe, I hope.” And while they continue to breathe and hope, the leaders there use their experiences to empower others threatened by the stultifying atmosphere of intolerance to survive and to breathe. This is why when the Pulse shootings occurred in Orlando, Rev. Deas of Emanuel went there to comfort the survivors. That is why Rev. Manning journeyed to Pittsburg to the Tree of Life Synagogue to share his experiences and comfort to leaders there who were victimized by a murderous antisemite. Members of that synagogue also returned the visit to Charleston, where they prayed with congregants within the walls of Mother Emanuel. So, in this sense, Mother Emanuel is a practical and symbolic bulwark against the forces of intolerance and brings together those intent on vanquishing it. [. . . ]

Evidence of racial inequality is even more dramatically evident today [than in 2015]. It is revealed by the racially disparate impact of the coronavirus, which demonstrates a range of inequalities based on race that influences health. Since 2015, we have had many more examples of mainly unarmed black men being mishandled and killed by police officers. These have been captured on cell phone videos. In 2015, the recording of Walter Scott’s death was unusual, but not now, and such evidence has demonstrated to so many whites that African American complaints have a real basis. This is a moment like that of the 1960s, when the civil rights movement attracted media attention in the South and the crimes against black people could no longer be denied as they were broadcast around the world via the international media. [. . .]

The ongoing demonstrations and marches now represent a difference. In 2015, a certain sense of malaise settled in over the city, it was a sense of collective trauma and also of disbelief that such an evil could occur in a sacred place. Today there is much more anger, which built up earlier in Brunswick, Georgia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, because there were no immediate arrests, and that bred festering anger and uncertainty.  [. . .]

We should be asking ourselves: What are each of us doing to make sure that this period of social ferment is maximized to bring about substantive and lasting change? How have I and those who I know contributed to the disaffection and alienation felt by so many African Americans and whites of conscience? How can I move beyond simple personal efforts to promote change to join with others to change institutions and the way they operate to challenge systematic racism and other forms of exclusion/oppression?

Our atmosphere must be cleared of the oppressive and stultifying forces that limit our ability “to breathe” and to hope. Among the most deadly of such forces we find racism, antisemitism, homophobia and sexism, among others. We must join our forces as people of conscience and vow to vanquish them so that we can all dream dreams and take in the clear and healthy air that will allow us to achieve them for our collective benefit. Now is the time and my hope is that this moment will not be lost.

https://today.cofc.edu/2020/06/17/mother-emanuel-legacy-of-hope-five-years-later/

Dr. Powers co-authored We Are Charleston: Tragedy and Triumph at Mother Emanuel with Herb Frazier and Marjory Wentworth. He is the author of numerous articles and of the book Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1885.

 

 

The Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston (CSSC) stands in complete solidarity and allyship with the families, protestors, and community members grieving and demanding justice for the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery — and our own Walter Scott and the Emmanuel 9 (to name only a few). We recognize that these acts of violence are deeply rooted in the institution of slavery which served to deny the sanctity and sovereignty of Black life.

As a Center that studies the history and legacies of chattel slavery in the South, we see the recent instances of brutality occurring nationally and in Charleston as but the latest manifestations of our country’s long history of violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. We are deeply pained by these tragic events, which serve to remind us all that the history of racism and white supremacy are clearly not past: we are still living them, and they are ever-present on our campus and in our local community. Because of this, the CSSC was established in 2018 to foster a deeper public understanding of slavery and its complex legacies. A part of our mission is to raise awareness and fight to bring an end to their brutal impacts. It is in this spirit that we stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and campus activists. 

We demand social justice. In March 2020, we had planned a community-wide conversation on reparations in Charleston that was interrupted by COVID-19. The combined tragedies of state violence against Black Americans and the disproportionate effects of the pandemic on the Black community highlight the urgency of this work. We call on the College of Charleston leadership to make good on its promise to combat racism and white privilege by dedicating more robust support to the CSSC. And in turn, the CSSC pledges to advance learning and research experiences for our students, staff, and faculty to further our understanding of how our history of slavery shapes the present, and to collaborate with members of the campus and Charleston community to create programming and restorative dialogue to promote social justice, racial healing, reconciliation, and transformational change.

We see our work as a tangible affirmation that Black Lives Matter (and have always mattered).

 

Skip to toolbar