Library - 6.1 K

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Researching African-American History at the South Caroliniana Library
By Brian J. Cuthrell
Although Black History Month is celebrated every February, the South Caroliniana Library offers extensive materials for researching African-American history throughout the year. The library's holdings are justly renowned for a strong concentration in materials documenting the antebellum period and the Reconstruction era. Less familiar to many are the collections reflecting more recent aspects of the African-American experience in South Carolina. Scholars may approach these topics via manuscript collections, the “Black History Collection” verticle files, or newspapers published by the African- American press and countless books, pamphlets, and other publications, all of which are available at the library.
Harbison Agricultural Institute - 10.1 K
Baseball team [undated], from Harbison Agricultural College (Irmo, S.C.) collection.

The library holds collections documenting the work of various leaders of the black community, including educator and activist Modjeska M. Simkins (1899-1992), newspaper editor John Henry McCray (1910-1987) and businessman Arthur J. Clement, Jr. (1908-1986). Accomplishments of Simkins and McCray include the founding of the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) which was formed in May 1944 to ensure a voice in the electoral process for Black South Carolinians. Other community leaders active in the PDP included Dr. Annie Bell Ranzy Weston, a professor at Benedict College beginning in the 1930s, who served as State Secretary of the Progressive Democratic Party, and attended several Democratic National Conventions with her PDP colleagues. Unlike Simkins and McCray, Weston did not leave her papers to a library, so her contributions might be overlooked by researchers and forgotten by the current generation. Luckily, the African-American press documented her work in such newspapers as the Palmetto Leader (Columbia, S.C.). Researchers interested in Weston or her contemporaries may browse these newspapers in the Books Division of the library, or more conveniently read the ready-reference file maintained in the “Black History Collection” of vertical files held by the Manuscripts Division.

"...subject access to materials significant for the study of African Americans, women, labor, agriculture, and other topics of interest in the social history of recent decades will be improved..."
Unpublished collections held in Manuscripts Division preserve a wealth of information about the lives of generations of South Carolina families. Thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant project entitled the “Cultural Crossroads,” subject access to materials significant for the study of African Americans, women, labor, agriculture, and other topics of interest in the social history of recent decades will be improved through enhanced and expanded collection description. Of interest for scholars of black history, including academic researchers and the increasing number of visitors interested in African-American genealogy, the “Cultural Crossroads” project will describe such documents as labor agreements of the antebellum or Reconstruction era and note which records identify African-Americans by name, age, occupation, or location.

The library holds published and unpublished material documenting the educational opportunities available during the early twentieth century and the civil rights movement of subsequent decades. The library holds several manuscript collections documenting schools founded for the freedmen in the lowcountry, including materials found in the papers of the Christensen family, ca. 1850-1920. This collection represents one of fifteen large collections slated for processing thanks to a project entitled, "Accessing the Emerging South," made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). Papers of the Christensen family document efforts of Abbie Christensen to establish the Port Royal Agricultural and Industrial School in Beaufort County, S.C., an institution modeled after Booker T. Washington's Tuskeegee Institute.

Joggling board - 35.1 K
"Joggling Board" at the Laing School in Mt. Plesant, S.C., from the Abby D. Munro papers (1869-1926).

The papers of Abby D. Munro (1837-1913), administrator of the Laing School in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., and founder of the Mt. Pleasant Home for Destitute Children include many photographs as well as correspondence. Munro's papers (1869-1926) include photographs of students made, ca. 1900, by Arthur L. MacBeth, an African-American photographer of Charleston, S.C. Researchers will find another extensive collection of photographs preserved among the records of the Harbison Agricultural College (Irmo, S.C.), which date to ca. 1911-1956.

Other collections document the African-American presence in the upstate, such as the papers of Edgar Wallace Biggs (1880-1932), a graduate of Tuskeegee who operated Biggs Mortuary in Greenville, Greer, and Greenwood, S.C. A portion of the collection documents business interests of Biggs, and his many organizational affiliations, such as the Knights of Pythias, and the Republican party, including a letter to his wife Lydia Washington Biggs reporting his attendance at the June 1932 Republican convention in Chicago, Ill.

"Playing in the Yard" at the Laing School in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., from the Abby D. Munro papers (1869-1926).
Recess - 23.3 K

Collections of more recent vintage document political activism at the local and state levels, as found in the papers of Arthur John Howard Clement, Jr. (1908-1986), a Charleston businessman and political activist. In 1950, Clement opposed incumbent L. Mendel Rivers as congressional representative from the First District, becoming the first African-American in the history of South Carolina to run for Congress as a Democrat. For a more complete description, see the 1995 Annual Program.

Political action groups also broke new ground during the civil rights movement. The library's holdings of the records of the South Carolina Council on Human Relations document efforts to improve social conditions ca. 1934-1976. A similar collection, the records of the Christian Action Council, documents a religious approach to the solution of various social problems. This collection, 1923-1985, documents the long period when the Council served as South Carolina's only ecumenical, interracial church agency of its day.

During the mid-1930s, in addition to their efforts to interview and preserve the oral history of former slaves, Works Projects Administration agents visited churches to record church histories and to document the existence of any records preserved by the church at that time. The library does not hold copies of the actual church records, but the multi-page surveys available in Manuscripts Division preserve extensive information about founders, leaders, locations, and structures associated with various churches. A good example of the type of survey available are the papers documenting the First African Baptist Church, of Beaufort, S.C. The survey reports that the Rev. Arthur Waddell, of the Second African Baptist Church of Savannah, Ga., founded the church in Beaufort on December 6, 1865 and served as minister of the congregation for thirty-one years, 1865-1896. This entry includes a three-page historical sketch written by J.I. Washington on the occasion of the church’s fiftieth anniversary.

The Library’s Books Division holds many published materials that may interest those researching the African-American presence beyond the well-documented lowcountry and urban areas. The library holds many published catalogues for academies, normal schools and colleges, including many that were founded for African Americans. The library has incomplete holdings for most of these titles, but hopefully many of these gaps will be bridged thanks to a grant funded by Southeastern Library Network (SOLINET), which is currently collecting and microfilming all known catalogues of South Carolina schools, including many historically black colleges, such as Seneca Junior College in Oconee County and Friendship Institute in Rock Hill, S.C.

E. E. Wright portrait - 8.5 K
Elizabeth Evelyn Wright

Founder of Voorhees Normal and Industrial School (Denmark, S.C.)

Many of these historically black colleges were founded by national religious denominations and provided coeducational instruction some designed for children from the first grade up to college level. In addition to announcing the curriculum to perspective students, these catalogues were mailed to benefactors. The school catalogues of the period typically included a complete listing of students enrolled and their hometowns, which may interest persons researching family history, the segregated educational system, or other topics.

Another resource available in Books Division are newspapers which provide an invaluable sense of what people knew and when they knew it. John Hammond Moore's book, South Carolina Newspapers, offers a list for each county of all known periodicals and dates, including the intended constituency or agenda of the editor, i.e. Federalist, religious, pro-labor, or German language. Moore identifies newspapers written for the African-American newspapers, such as John McCray's Lighthouse and Informer (Columbia, S.C., published ca. 1941-1954), or the Palmetto Leader ( Columbia, S.C., published ca. 1925-1966).

Available in Manuscripts Division, the “Black History Collection” vertical file provides a ready- reference collection of approximately 16 cubic feet. The “Persons/Family” portion of the collection, boxes 1-5, include material on college professor Dr. Annie Bell Weston, football player William "Refrigerator" Perry, state senator Kay Patterson, and Berkeley County nurse and midwife Maude Callen, to name a few.

Penn Center - 0.0 K
Image from catalog for Penn Normal and Industrial School (Frogmore, St. Helena Island, S.C.)

Founded in 1862, Penn Center was incorporated into Beaufort County Schools system during the 1940s.

"Subject" files address such topics as African-American businesses, social clubs and organizations, professions, politics, and race relations. Many topics represented document the realities of a segregated world, such as the file for "Colored Fairs," which describes entertainment available at the segregated state fair. News accounts from the Palmetto Leader, promised that October 26-31, 1926, the "Colored Fair" would offer various sporting events, including two days of baseball games between men from Charlotte, N.C., and an unnamed local team; football games pitting Allen University against Benedict College as well as Booker T. Washington High of Columbia versus Wilson High of Florence, S.C.

The library maintains other vertical file collections which include folders devoted to the African- American experience in South Carolina. In addition to the “Black History Collection,” the library holds other ready-reference vertical files on such subjects as artists, churches, colleges, counties, jazz musicians, Indians, and others, many of which contain information on black history topics.

Researchers can consult the books, newspapers, and collections of personal papers to study the activities of community leaders. The activities of prominent individuals can be documented in the personal papers generated during their lives. By consulting several under-utilized resources at the library, researchers may learn more about the contributions and the lives of African Americans in the Palmetto State who might otherwise be forgotten.

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