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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.

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).


On Sunday, Feb 23, 4 PM, come to Wesley United Methodist Church on Johns Island for a program, “Awakening the Ancestors through Music.” Participants will learn about Lowcountry sprituals and funeral songs. Co-sponsored by International African American Museum, The Progressive Club of Johns Island, Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission, Charleston County Public Library, and Wesley United Methodist Church.

On Monday, Feb 24, 6 PM, come to the College of Charleston Sciences Auditorium, room 129, to hear a talk by Margaret Seidler, “Telling the Story of a Charleston Family of Slave Traders and Those They Sold.” Co-sponsored by the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) program at C of C and the Center for Family History at the International African American Museum.

Flyer for Feb 23 event Flyer for Feb 24 event

CSSC Director Bernard Powers was interviewed on SC Public Radio this week, talking about the work of the Center.

Dr. Bernard Powers in front of Randolph Hall

Dr. Bernard Powers in front of C of C’s Randolph Hall

On February 1, Dr. Powers also represented the Center at “History Makers and Trailblazers,” a symposium on the “history of access, equity, and inclusivity” at the College. This event was part of the College’s 250th anniversary observances, which began last week. Dr. Powers moderated a panel entitled “Breaking the Color Barrier,” with C of C alums Otto German and Linda Dingle, Mayor Joe Riley, Dr. Andrew Lewis, and the Honorable Lucille Whipper, who had just received a Founders’ Day medal from the College (see photo below). Representative Whipper, who worked at C of C under President Ted Stern, was a memorable presence on the panel. As a student at Avery, she had applied to the College in 1944 and was rejected because of her race. The College finally desegregated in 1967.

This new SC Historic Marker notes that the College went private in 1949 to avoid integration.

At last week’s event, Rep. Whipper reminisced with Dr. Powers about her successful efforts in the 1980s to preserve the Avery Institute building and transform it into a part of the College, the Avery Research Center.

C of C President with Founders Day medal recipients

The Honorable Lucille Simmons Whipper, third from left, with President Andrew Hsu and other Founders Day medal recipients: Nigel Redden for Spoleto USA, Judge Richard Gergel on behalf of Judge Julius Waties Waring, Class of 1900.

More people question weddings at plantation sites

By Julia Eichelberger
Posted on 14 December 2019 | 2:25 pm — 

Bernard Powers, CSSC director, was on his way to do field research in the Caribbean when he was contacted by a BuzzFeed news reporter. “This is an article on the recent debate over weddings at plantation sites,” Dr. Powers notes. “Early this a.m., I was responding to the reporter on my phone on a small ferry plying the choppy waters between St. Kitts and Nevis.”

Here’s an excerpt from BuzzFeed News:

Dr. Bernard Powers, the director of the College of Charleston’s Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston, told BuzzFeed News that the inherent beauty of plantations must be contextualized.

“If these places looked the same and had a different history, no one would object and they would simply be recognized for their beauty. And they are beautiful today because in part due to the knowledge of slave gardeners who tended [to] them,” he said. “Recognize the people who did the work and contrast the beauty with the brutality. Both occurred and must be recognized and reconciled.”

This country, Walcott-Wilson added, was built by slaves. Finding a wedding venue anywhere that hasn’t been touched by slavery would be difficult.




On November 12 at 6 pm, in Room 227 of Addlestone Library, Dr. Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh will deliver a lecture entitled “‘The Issue of Females’: Abortion, Infanticide, and Ethics in Southern Slavery.” Dr. Wells-Oghoghomeh is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University. The Conseula Francis Emerging Scholar Lecture honors the memory and legacy of Conseula Francis, a greatly beloved C of C English professor and director of the program in African American Studies.

Nov 12 Lecture flyer

Three Lectures on Race, Memory, and Slavery

By Julia Eichelberger
Posted on 2 November 2019 | 4:51 pm — 


David Blight lecture: Race & Memory in Charleston, Fri Nov 8, 1:30 PM, The Citadel

CLAW lectures on “Ancestries of Enslavement:” Elizabeth West, “Black Kinship Lineage and the Cistrunks of Noxabee County,” Wed Nov 20, 5:30 pm, Rita Hollings Cntr; Terri Snyder, “Claiming Freedom and Black Antislavery Work in the American South,” Thurs Nov 21,  5 PM, Addlestone 227.


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