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Archives For October 2020

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.

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