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“Critical Conversations” on CSSC and the College’s work studying slavery and its legacies

By Julia Eichelberger
Posted on 20 October 2020 | 5:42 pm — 

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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