Bull Street, Segregated

This blog entry was written by Public History M.A. student Clara Bertagnolli as part of a project for the University of South Carolina Fall 2015 course, FILM 710: Media and Archives. Each student was tasked with the job of designing a project using archived media. Students were encouraged to take advantage of the resources available at MIRC as they developed their projects.

If you’ve been in Columbia for a few years or more, you’ve probably heard the name “Bull Street” used not to refer to the road in downtown, but the campus of the old state-run mental facility, the South Carolina State Hospital. You may have heard of the recent plans to develop the property, and the resulting attempts to preserve the State Hospital’s historic buildings and use them for research while they still stood. I participated in one attempt to preserve the campus’ history. When presented with another opportunity to study local history through media, using MIRC’s extensive collection, my first thought was to see what I could find on Bull Street.

While most locals have heard of the Bull Street property and know what it was once used for, few have heard of the Crafts-Farrow Hospital or the Palmetto State Hospital. These are two names for another state-run mental hospital in Columbia, the annex off of Farrow Road that was designed and built for the sole purpose of segregation. It was constructed in the 1910s and was used to house African-American patients only until the 1960s, when outside pressures finally pushed the South Carolina Department of Mental Health to integrate its two Columbia campuses.

MIRC’s Local Television News Collection contains a wealth of historic footage from WIS-TV featuring both campuses. One film in particular caught my eye as I browsed the footage: a 1965 film of a tour of both campuses. The desegregation process was not yet publicly underway, making this a glimpse into the late life of these segregated facilities.

The contrast, though not overwhelming, is clear. The most obvious difference is between the two signs: one, large and welcoming; the other, small and exclusionary, mounted to a gate in a chain link fence. It’s clear which is supposed to be the better place to be, even before setting foot on the campus. Passers-by are meant to know about the Bull Street campus; the Crafts-Farrow campus doesn’t achieve such importance.

Top: sign for the State Hospital at Bull Street. Bottom: sign for Crafts-Farrow Hospital.

Top: sign for the State Hospital at Bull Street. Bottom: sign for Crafts-Farrow Hospital.

The differences don’t stop there. While both campuses appear to be spacious, with buildings in good repair on the outside, a peek into the patients’ quarters says otherwise. Both have dormitory-style living, which back then was a common living situation for hospital patients of all kinds, giving each of them a cot-like bed in a large shared room. The white patients at the Bull Street campus, however, seem to have better treatment than the African-American ones living at Crafts-Farrow. While the aisles between beds were narrow in both, the Bull Street patients had space at both ends, while the Crafts-Farrow patients slept with their heads mere inches from their neighbors’ feet. A few more inches of personal space probably go a long way for someone living in a room like that.

Top: dormitory room at the State Hospital at Bull Street. Bottom: dormitory room at Crafts-Farrow Hospital.

Top: dormitory room at the State Hospital at Bull Street. Bottom: dormitory room at Crafts-Farrow Hospital.

A third notable difference between the two is the state of the hallways. Both look clean and in good repair (as far as I could tell from the black and white footage), but a careful look at the background of the footage reveals an interesting detail. When the tour group being followed in this film walks through the halls of one of the Bull Street campus buildings, there is no one else in sight. However, when the group walks through a hallway on the Crafts-Farrow campus, there are many people in the background, differentiated from the tour group by two key factors: 1) their clothing is more casual than that of the tour group, and 2) they are sitting on the ground, a rather unusual position for people on a walking tour. It’s unclear whether these people are staff or patients, but judging by their seating arrangements, it’s more likely that they’re patients who couldn’t find seating in their lounge areas. This is not an ideal situation for a mental facility.


Modjeska Simkins on the grounds of the State Hospital at Bull Street.

This film makes the differences between the two campuses clear, whether or not the crew from WIS-TV intended it to. They may not have been so obvious to those on the tour. One person on the tour who certainly took note of the differences was Modjeska Simkins, a local civil rights activist. In fact, she voices her displeasure with the fact that the institutions are still segregated in a WIS-TV interview three months later. No doubt, the tour made an impression on her.


~Written by USC Public History M.A. student Clara Bertagnolli

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