Jack at South Carolina College: Remembering Enslaved People in Columbia

By Jill Found

In December, the University of South Carolina dedicated two new historic plaques on the Horseshoe, the school’s original campus. Each marker described the school’s ownership of enslaved people and use of enslaved labor from its founding until the Civil War. One included the names of sixteen individuals owned by the college or hired out to work there. For the first time, the names of enslaved people appeared on the landscape alongside the names of slave owners and ideological proponents of slavery that currently adorn buildings across campus. Now, next to the last names of prominent South Carolinians—Rutledge, Harper, Legare, DeSaussure—a visitor can find the first names of Abraham, Amanda, Anna, Anthony, Charles, Henry, Jack, Jim, Joe, Lucy, Mal., Peter, Sancho, Simon, Toby, and Tom—the only enslaved people whose names appear in college records.


The lives of these white men can easily be accessed through histories of South Carolina, biographies, and even Wikipedia articles. Very little has been written about the enslaved people named on the plaques. This comes, in part, from the fact that enslaved people did not have the same opportunities as prominent white men to leave behind a written record in their own voice. Still, we can know something about their lives and how they lived them. Reading between the lines of institutional sources and adding context through a broader understanding of the lives of enslaved people in South Carolina, we can begin to understand who these people were in their own right rather than just as property of the college.

Jack was the first person purchased by South Caroline College (the name of the school before the Civil War), but he did not live his entire life in Columbia. Before being hired out to South Carolina College, Jack lived on the plantation of John Wallace, on the border of Laurens and Newberry Counties, some eighty miles to the northwest of Columbia. There, he was part of a community that included nine other enslaved people. When Wallace died, he divided up this community, giving Jack to his wife Amy. In his will, Wallace separated Jack from people he had lived alongside and formed bonds with—some of whom could have been his family members, and many of whom he would have formed strong relationships with.

In 1811, Amy Wallace hired Jack out to South Carolina College. Wallace used an intermediary, James Bostick, to manage Jack’s hire and collect payments from the college that for Jack’s labor. Hiring out presented enslaved people with the opportunity to mediate their condition. Rather than being owned by one person for whom they also worked, slaves who were hired out answered to different masters. While this presented the challenge of balancing interests, it also allowed enslaved people like Jack explore other means toward their own interests. At South Carolina College, Jack could do just that.

Despite its recent founding, life in Columbia looked very different from the life that Jack knew on the plantation. With a population of less than a thousand people when Jack arrived, the town showed sure signs of growth. Two key institutions played an important role in that development: the state government and the college. The decision to move the capital away from Charleston had necessitated the creation of a new city, a planned city with a grid street system at the juncture of the Broad and Saluda rivers in 1786, though it only became a town in its own right in 1805. The state legislature chartered South Carolina College in 1801, but it did not start offering classes until 1805.[1] From its earliest days of operation, the school planned to use enslaved laborers to assist in the school’s operations. The Board of Trustees of the college hired enslaved people to clean students’ rooms, cook meals, and complete other necessary tasks to keep the college running smoothly.

University of S.C., Columbia, S.C., circa 1909, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Jack’s job was different. He worked in the chemistry laboratory and cared for the “philosophical apparatus,” a set of instruments used for science experiments and demonstrations. According to the professor who he worked most closely with, Jack quickly became integral to the adequate functioning of the laboratory. Through the laboratory Jack developed specialized skills and an important working relationship with the chemistry professor, Edward Derrill Smith. During his earliest years at the school, Jack “acquired a tolerably good knowledge of this business and is enabled thereby to aid some of the Professors considerably in the Mechanical part of their duties.”[2] Smith worked hard to ensure that he would not lose Jack’s labor, writing letters to Bostick, the faculty, the Board of Trustees, and the Governor to keep Jack in the laboratory. When Jack’s owner decided to sell him at auction and Samuel Green, a local druggist and hotel owner, purchased Jack, Smith obtained Jack’s continued hire to work the laboratory. A year later Smith secured $900 of funding from the state legislature for the college to purchase Jack. By the end of 1816, South Carolina College owned Jack.

Slave quarters behind First Professors House [Presidents House], 1940s, SCL (courtesy of Special Collections Thomas Cooper Cooper Library, University of South Carolina)
This change required Jack to reorient his life at South Carolina College. For many enslaved people purchase meant a change of location and the loss of friends or family, though for Jack this had occurred years before. Now he would have to renegotiate his relationship with the college. No longer did he have an outside party to turn to for redress of grievances, if needed. Instead Jack had to rely on his relationships within the college, primarily professors. The Board of Trustees gave the professors of the college the responsibility of determining Jack’s upkeep, which they did not discuss for almost a year. Finally, the faculty determined that Jack could hire himself out in order to pay for his room and board. This meant an increased burden on Jack’s labor, but also the ability to determine for whom he labored. Jack chose to work for the students. He hired out his time to undergraduates which brought him out of the Chemistry lab and provided him with opportunities to interact with the broader campus.

The extra work provided for Jack’s lodging, which likely changed throughout his time at South Carolina College. The Board of Trustees and faculty never explicitly described where Jack lived, though they make suggestions. At some point he probably lived on the campus. No known slave quarters existed during Jack’s time there, so he would have slept in another building on campus. Jack could have lived with Bostick, who managed his hire. Green, who briefly owned Jack, lived only two blocks from the college and had twenty-eight enslaved people living on his property during Jack’s time at South Carolina College. Wherever Jack lived, he now had to pay his own way.

Jack’s life shifted again when Smith decided to leave South Carolina. His replacement, Thomas Cooper, resented Jack’s ability to hire himself out to the students and saw Jack as a problem, calling him, “idle, careless, void of veracity, and of honesty.”[3] Cooper asserted that he needed the right to physically punish Jack, something that Smith had apparently never done. He even asked the Board of Trustees for permission to remove Jack from campus, hiring him out to someone else, a complete reversal from Smith’s persistent efforts to keep Jack in the Chemistry lab. This change drove Jack to find another mode of institutional support.

Thomas Cooper Library, University of South Carolina courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the months after Cooper’s arrival, Jack sought membership at Columbia’s Presbyterian Church. Unlike many other churches in Columbia and across the South, Columbia’s Presbyterian Church had not made efforts to reach out to African American members. Jack’s impetus to join likely came from his desire to have connections outside the campus and his familiarity with the church from Smith, who had been a member. Jack’s bid for membership confounded the board of the church, which delayed a decision on his membership four times, stringing Jack along over the course of a year. Finally they consulted with the “principal officers” of the college, likely Thomas Cooper who had become president of the college in the year since. The school reported unfavorably upon Jack and the church denied him membership. Jack did not have the opportunity to gain membership in another organization. On March 4, 1822 the faculty of the college ordered $8.50 be paid for Jack’s burial.

Knowing Jack’s life requires more than a plaque. Understanding the true past of colleges and universities certainly means acknowledging their connections to slavery. More deeply though true awareness requires an examination of the lives of the people enslaved by the institution. Jack’s life mattered because he was a person, not just because of his benefit to the college. Today, the marker bearing his name frames him only as a value to the school, not in his own right. To do this requires reading institutional materials beyond the records of South Carolina College and asking questions of them that take the story of an individual person outside of the college itself and place them in a broader context within their community. For the University of South Carolina and Columbia, this means seeing how slavery connected the college and the town, as enslaved people had to navigate both.


Today, prospective students and families on tours of the university may or may not stop and read Jack’s name on its plaque, listed among many. But almost all tours visit the university’s main library, named for Thomas Cooper.

MeJill Found is a Ph.D. student at the University of South Carolina. Her research looks at the lived experiences of enslaved people on college campuses. 

[1] John Hammond Moore, Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740-1990 (Columbia, S.C: University of South Carolina Press, 1993).

[2] E. D. Smith, Letter to Andrew Pickens, December 5, 1816, South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

[3] Thomas Cooper, Letter to Board of Trustees of South Carolina College, 22 April 1821, South Caroliniana Library.

Member of the Week: René Luís Alvarez

160205_Rene_Luis_Alvarez.jpgRené Luís Alvarez, PhD

Lecturer in History

Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

I have researched and written about the history of American urban education, focusing mainly on Chicago’s Mexican American community. While the teaching and administrative responsibilities of my current position at Arrupe College have lessened the amount of time I can devote to new research projects, I am able to draw upon my academic training to serve Arrupe students, who mostly are first-generation college students from lower income and previously underrepresented communities across the city.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

As a two-year degree-granting program, Arrupe College offers general education courses which students then can use to transfer to a four-year degree institution or to enter the working world. As such, I teach both halves of the United States survey and both halves of the Western Civilization survey. In addition to teaching full-time, I have a cohort of advisees with whom I meet regularly, both individually and in groups, to ensure that they are on their best paths towards graduation. As an educational historian, I understand the patterns of inequality that have deprived some students access to a rigorous, liberal art education. A large part of Arrupe College’s mission is to provide students the opportunity to achieve their educational goals at the highest levels. In this way, my training as an historian and my current work nicely complement each other.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Stephen N. Katsouros, SJ, the Dean and Executive Director of Arrupe College, published Come to Believe: How the Jesuits are Reinventing Education (Again) last year. In it, he details the first years of Arrupe’s founding and development. My signed copy has been on my office shelf since its release. While I have my own insider’s view of Arrupe College and have discussed several aspects of Arrupe with Fr. Katsouros on many occasions, I am eager to read about Arrupe from Fr. Katsouros’ perspective.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies? 

I would advise young scholars to take an interdisciplinary if not eclectic approach to their curricular and extra-curricular activities in order to develop their versatility. To this I would add that they be open to a variety of career opportunities. The contours of higher education have changed significantly since I completed my doctorate ten years ago, which in turn has affected the history job market. As such, I think young scholars need to consider opportunities that are not necessarily of the tenure-track nature. Having a diverse set of skills that include non-academic as well as academic skills while being open to different kinds of jobs can enable someone to find some very meaningful work.

You now teach at your undergraduate alma mater! What has changed for the better in the intervening years, and what are you relieved to find has remained the same?

I always have been proud of my affiliation with Loyola University Chicago because of its enduring commitment to quality education in the Jesuit tradition, so I am very happy to now be a part of that commitment and tradition. I am glad that Loyola’s commitment and tradition has not diminished since I graduated (at some point during the last millennium.) In many ways, it has grown even stronger, evidenced by programs like Arrupe College. In addition to this, I also have been overwhelmed by the physical changes of Loyola’s campuses. Both the Lake Shore Campus in the Rogers Park neighborhood and the Water Tower Campus in Chicago’s downtown have transformed over the years through ambitious construction projects, providing students facilities that not only are great for living, studying, and learning but also are aesthetically pleasing to the senses.

Cities and the Legacy of 1968

By Jim Wunsch

Happy 2018, if the statute of limitations has not yet run out on such greetings. What will the new year bring? When it comes to prognosticating, historians are probably no better than any others. As to the past, however, we would be remiss to overlook that it has been a half-century since the year 1968–arguably the annus mirabilis of the American city.

Let me explain. The assassination of Martin Luther King on April 4th of that year triggered riots in cities across the country, the culmination of a sequence that had begun five years earlier in Harlem, Rochester and Philadelphia. The rioting in ’64, followed by Watts the following year, continued with such regularity each summer that that the phrase “long hot summer” began to imply that if the thermometer rose to a certain point, then one ghetto or another might explode.

Few ventured to say when or if the rioting would end because the apparent causes– police brutality, joblessness, discrimination, inadequate school and housing opportunities–showed no sign of abating. Indeed, on February 29,1968, little more than a month before the King assassination, the Kerner Commission, after completing its investigation of Watts, Newark, Detroit and other cities, had famously concluded: “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.”

But the riots did end, more or less, in 1968. (The later ones such as Liberty City (1980) and Rodney King (1992) were sufficiently distant in time as to appear distinct from the long hot summers even though the ostensible causes were similar.) Why the rioting ended in ‘68 remains an open question.

But if few had predicted the beginning or end of the riots, fewer still predicted that the arson, abandonment, job and population losses that followed in the seventies and eighties would prove so devastating that most American cities would never fully recover. It should be kept in mind that despite the turmoil of the sixties, American cities were then relatively strong: the majority of African American families in 1960 were headed by two adults; despite the mass arrests during the riots, soaring crime rates, and a raging heroin epidemic, incarceration rates were declining. Then too, reformers remained confident that slum clearance, public housing construction and community-based anti-poverty programs might renew and revive city life. But the King assassination followed by that of Robert Kennedy and the fearful rioting and racial divisiveness of 1968 dissipated the positive outlook of reformers dating back to Jacob Riis.

“Riot Damage in Washington D.C.”, Warren K. Leffler photographer, April 16, 1968, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The profound loss of confidence in the future of cities also arose because a troubling question was now being raised: were cities needed to sustain economic growth? At the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Regional Commissioner Samuel M. Ehrenhalt reported that after the number of jobs in New York City peaked during 1968-69, the city’s economy plunged into what he called “free fall.” One sixth of the city’s employment base, 600,000 jobs, was wiped out in seven years.

Throughout history those living in the countryside had ventured into cities looking for work; but when work in cities disappeared, so might the residents. Between 1970 and 1980, NYC lost more than 800,000, a population substantially greater than the entire city of Boston.

Chart via The Transport Politic

But New York’s ten-percent loss seemed modest compared to declines in places with less resilient economies (and with fewer immigrants to take the place of the departed.) Baltimore, D.C. and Cincinnati lost 20 percent, 1970-1990; St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo, lost 30 percent during the same period.

Via The Transport Politic; see also here for more

American cities had been thinning out since the fifties but nothing like such losses had ever been seen before.  Meanwhile as Cleveland, Detroit and Buffalo appeared to be in free fall, Houston, Dallas, Phoenix and other Sunbelt cities (their high murder rates to the contrary notwithstanding) appeared to flourish. It was understood that the warmer weather, cheap air conditioning, and massive federal defense and aerospace outlays to the Sunbelt explained the mass migration south and west.  But the inevitable comparison between the rising Sunbelt and falling Snowbelt cities was misleading in an important respect. Unable to annex surrounding suburbs, the Snowbelt cities were confined by tight boundaries that had not expanded much since the horse and buggy era. Meanwhile Sunbelt cities had annexed so much territory after World War II that their boundaries defined not just cities, but burgeoning metropolitan suburbs.  Compare St. Louis at 66 sq miles, Cincinnati (80), and Detroit (140) to Dallas (340) Phoenix (517), and Houston (600). If those Sunbelt cities had maintained their 1940-1950 boundaries, then they too would have been labeled as dysfunctional ghettos surrounded by prosperous suburbs.

P9282157I have dubbed ‘68 annus mirabilis, but this cheerless screed seems more suggestive of annus horribilis. Still the mighty John Dryden dedicated his epic Annus Mirabilis to the City of London, then going through an especially rough patch. By 1666, Dryden’s “year of miracles,” the plague, which had began the year before, had wiped out upwards of 100,000 of London’s half-million residents. Then came the fire of September 2-5, 1666 which destroyed the better part of the city. The miracle, it was said, was that God had not wiped out the whole enterprise.

What then of the miracle of 1968? On June 5th of that year, two months after the King assassination, Robert Kennedy, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination, was gunned down in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. The summer brought rioting  at Grant Park and on Chicago’s the south and west sides. Amidst this frenzy, it was easy to overlook that something momentous had taken place: on June 30, 1968 the Immigration and Nationality Act became effective.P9282158 Passed by overwhelming bi-partisan majorities three years earlier, the new the act had dispensed with half-century old quotas favoring north European emigration; instead emigrants from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America were being welcomed. With little fanfare over the next half-century, the newcomers transformed the U.S. into a remarkable multi-cultural nation; they settled all over the country but especially in cities, including places sometimes written off as uninhabitable. Those cities may not have re-gained their former glory, but the newcomers contributed a necessary measure of stability. The American city was no longer in free fall. It could have been worse. Annus mirabilis indeed.


Jim-Wunsch-100x100Jim Wunsch teaches urban and educational history at Empire State (SUNY). He formerly served as non-partisan staff to the New Jersey Assembly’s Municipal Government Committee, as Associate Director of the Regional Plan Association and taught social studies at Monroe, Smith and Truman high schools in The Bronx.

ICYMI: The “How is it almost February?” Edition

By Avigail Oren

We’re approaching the end of our Metropolis of the Month coverage of Columbia, SC, and I confess that I’m feeling sad about it. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with our many contributors and the response from you all, dear readers, has been so enthusiastic. My consolation is that we have one more excellent piece coming up next week, and our upcoming series in February–The City in Fiction–is going to be pretty exceptional.

From our cousins over at the Global Urban History blog, a new post by Benjamin Bryce on the relative lack of ethnic clusters in Buenos Aires.

You will click on “Like a Fart in a Skillet,” from the OAH’s Process blog, because like me you still have the sense of humor of a 12 year old.

UHA member Nick Juravich uses an Arizona school district’s facepalm-inducing plan to provide tiny houses for teachers as a launching point to explore the interconnected issues of educational inequality, segregation, and affordable housing.

This is an older post that I missed when it was published, but is a valuable resource for graduate students struggling with how to pay for mental health care.

Check out this Post Doctoral Fellowship in Prison Studies at NYU

The past few days have been so busy, and I’m relieved and overjoyed that it is Friday. Wishing you all a pleasant weekend!


The City Bureaucracy Rebuilt: Columbia’s Mid-Century Moment

Image above: 1919 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Ward 1, the African American neighborhood the university acquired and demolished through Urban Renewal. LBC&W’s Carolina Coliseum was built on the block just south of Greene Street, facing east onto Assembly Street. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of South Carolina Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

By Lydia Mattice Brandt

An antebellum city with few antebellum buildings, Columbia has long lagged behind its charming coastal cousin in the recognition of its historic fabric. Charleston, with its narrow cobblestone streets and quintessential single-houses, is undeniably old, seemingly making it South Carolina’s logical leader for historic preservation and tourism. But Columbia’s time has finally come: its tremendous twentieth-century building stock is now just old enough to be considered “historic” by the dominant metrics of the National Register of Historic Places. Generations born too recently to know these buildings as “new” now regard them with interest and appreciation, seeing the plate glass, steel beams, and clean lines through the lenses of West Elm and Mad Men.

3. Russell House_preview
Russell House University Union, University of South Carolina, 1955. LBC&W and others convinced university officials not to build a colonial revival student union on the Horseshoe and instead to construct a Modern structure on a vacant site to the south. Photograph by Russell Maxey. Walker Local and Family History Center, Richland Library, Columbia.  

From the mid-1950s through the mid-1970s, bureaucracy rebuilt Columbia in the Modernist guise. The postwar growth of the state’s government and flagship university guaranteed that Columbia would be a hotbed for construction at mid-century. The University of South Carolina’s enrollment tripled in this period, necessitating entire mini-campuses of structures that reached out in all directions from the tight, inward-looking arrangement of the nineteenth-century campus or “Horseshoe.” Close relationships between government officials and the university’s administration greased the wheels for the acquisition of acres of downtown for expansion. USC displaced entire neighborhoods, including the predominantly African American Ward I, with Urban Renewal and built impressive new facilities and acres of surface parking that would lay undeveloped for decades. With offices scattered across Columbia in leased spaces, the mushrooming state government also demanded land and buildings. A new master plan doubled the size of the government’s footprint around the state house, replacing a jumbled mix of buildings with rational axes and “Heroic” structures of cast stone.

2. Capitol Complex_preview
View through the LBC&W designed buildings and landscape to the South Carolina State House, 1979. Photograph by Russell Maxey. Walker Local and Family History Center, Richland Library, Columbia.

These new buildings and landscapes staunchly rejected the medley of historical revival styles that made Columbia look like many other southern cities built after the Civil War. They embraced the scale of its wide, planned grid, creating platforms and plazas for towering, starkly Modern structures that confidently projected optimism, organization, and control. It was a new dawn for a city long mired in the politics and pitfalls of the nineteenth-century South. While a number of firms contributed to this new architectural image, one dominated every aspect of this urban re-imagination: Lyles, Bissett, Carlisle and Wolff (LBC&W). The firm operated from 1948 until the mid-1970s and employed hundreds at a time across its offices in Columbia, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

LBC&W became the one-stop-shop for Modernism in South Carolina, offering a full range of services from planning and engineering to architectural design and contracting. LBC&W’s four savvy partners – William G. Lyles, Thomas J. Bissett, William A. Carlisle, and Louis M. Wolff – cornered the market on university and government contracts in the region. Its varied design team (seemingly every architect who worked in South Carolina in this period went through the office at some point) and the steady hand of chief designer Louis M. Wolff ensured their competency in a range of contemporary styles: sleek International Style, fortress-like Brutalism, and even graceful New Formalism (also known as the “Ballet Style”). As trends in ahistorical architecture shifted, so did LBC&W.

1. LBC&W office_1949_preview
Drafting room in LBC&W’s office on Bull Street, Columbia, circa 1949. Photograph by Russell Maxey. Walker Local and Family History Center, Richland Library, Columbia.

The firm introduced Columbia – and South Carolina – to Modernism. Wolff explained important dictums such as “form follows function” in a plain-spoken article in a 1953 volume of South Carolina Magazine, surely aiming at a client base that needed a little educating. He efficiently summarized his response to the new zeitgeist: “The mechanical age has resulted in a cramped condition within our cities. Careful planning with great imagination and foresight is now necessary to fit our modern living into practical and humanly congenial architectural form.” The firm convinced the University of South Carolina to build its first International Style building, an engineering lab, on a prominent corner downtown in 1952. LBC&W’s late 1960s master plan reorganized the statehouse grounds, finally giving form to a symbolic center for the state’s public identity. Other governmental and commercial commissions quickly followed, reshaping the visual and physical experience of Columbia.

4. Coliseum_preview
Carolina Coliseum, the University’s basketball arena, faces wide Assembly Street in 1969. It was the first major building constructed on the site of the former African American neighborhood, Ward 1. Photograph by Russell Maxey. Walker Local and Family History Center, Richland Library, Columbia.

LBC&W’s contribution to Columbia cannot be overstated; the density of buildings and landscapes designed by the firm is truly impressive. Within approximately five blocks of the State House in all directions are USC’s Carolina Coliseum (1969), Sumwalt Engineering Building (begun 1952), Thomas Cooper Library (begun 1959), James F. Byrnes Building (1967), Humanities Complex (1968), and Russell House University Union (1955); the residential Claire Towers (1950) and Cornell Arms (1949); the skyscraping Bankers Trust Tower (1974) and Rutledge Building (1965); a Miesian post office (1968); and the statehouse complex, including four buildings by the firm (1967-1970s). Together, they are a clear statement of Columbia’s rebirth as a glistening modern center for commerce, legislation, and academic research.

6. Thomas Cooper Library_preview
Thomas Cooper Library at the University of South Carolina in 1967. Edward Durrell Stone was the architect of record, with LBC&W as his local liaison. University Archives Photograph Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

From a preservation perspective, these buildings are challenging. They were often built with tight construction budgets and non-existent maintenance allowances, dooming their materials to age less gracefully than those by mid-century masters like Mies van der Rohe. They lack the nostalgic appeal and domestic familiarity of the “Atomic Ranch.” Their ubiquity and universality also works against them. As buildings designed closely together in time and space, they look like each other all while being literally next door to one another. As buildings designed according to theories of rationalism and functionalism, they also naturally look like Modern buildings elsewhere. It’s easy to argue that they are lesser versions of great Modern monuments in more cosmopolitan places like Chicago or London. For many, they are simply too young to appreciate. Recent, heated discussion over LBC&W’s Byrnes Building and the demolition of the firm’s first modern building on Clemson University’s campus suggest that these prejudices are gaining steam.

5. Sumwalt_preview
Sumwalt engineering building, the first Modern-style building on the University of South Carolina campus, begun in 1952. This photograph is circa 1960. University Archives Photograph Collection, South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina.

So why preserve them? Because they define Columbia in the same way that columns and fanlights say “Charleston.” They speak to the unique condition of a place largely demolished in the Civil War, rebuilt in fits and starts after the dismantling of the plantation system, and born anew thanks to institutional expansion. They are evidence of the chutzpah of a group of architects to grab onto a new market and to shape it to their abilities. They are emblems of a moment in which Columbia stood tall for a New South — and they remind us that those supposedly progressive agendas were often racist, classicist, and elitist. Respect for their embodied energy offers an opportunity to be mindful of the environment, rather than tearing them down for something new. Most importantly, their preservation would speak to the respect Columbia has for its own, local history and the stories that only it can tell. Designed to make the city relevant to the rest of the world, Columbia’s mid-century landscape proposes different historic narratives than Charleston. And that’s a good thing.

10. Class Photo_preview
Picture of Brandt with the students from her spring 2017 seminar in front of Thomas Cooper Library. Brandt back row, far left.

Lydia Mattice Brandt is associate professor of art history at the University of South Carolina. Since 2015, she and her students have researched Columbia’s mid-century architecture and landscapes. She thanks Lois Carlisle for her help with this post. Her book, First in the Homes of His Countrymen: George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the American Imagination, explores the impact of preservation and memory on contemporary architecture.

(1)  Louis M. Wolff, “Modern Architecture — Its Purposes and Aims,” South Carolina Magazine (January 1953): 70.

(2) For more on arguments for/against these buildings’ preservation, see Richard Longstreth, Looking beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015); Lydia Mattice Brandt, “Preserving and Researching Modern Architecture Outside of the Canon: A View from the Field,” Arris (The Journal of the Southeast Society of Architectural Historians) 26 (2015): 72-5.

Member of the Week: Matt Lasner

matthew-lasner_uap-bio2Matthew G. Lasner

Associate Professor, Urban Policy and Planning

Hunter College, City University of New York


Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I am writing a new book tentatively entitled the rather cumbersome Bay Area Urbanism: Architecture, Real Estate, and Progressive Community Planning in the United States from the New Deal to the New Urbanism. It explores the work of socially engaged designers in the San Francisco Bay Area who, at various points between the 1930s and 1990s, either partnered with sympathetic developers (like Joseph Eichler) or became part-time developers to get new kinds of speculative housing built—generally low-rise, high-density communities built for a mixture of kinds of households, with open-space. Before the New Deal, urbanists all over the U.S. (as in Europe throughout the twentieth century) were interested in managing urban growth but quirks in big federal programs like public housing and, especially, urban renewal diverted attention to rebuilding city centers to the exclusion of most else. Except in the West, and especially the Bay Area, where the unique natural environment (geography, topography) made it more difficult to ignore the suburbs. So the book is about how professionals assert their values but also about flexibility and creativity in the American system of housing provision.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

You’ve caught me in the middle of a sabbatical. Normally, though, I’d be teaching a mixture of service courses for our masters’ students like Introduction to Urban Planning and the History and Theory of Urban Planning, and courses focused on housing: both the history and current struggles. Nearly every fall I teach a course called Housing and the American City and in the spring a course called Housing in the Global City. In general I see teaching and research as iterative. Teaching the past and present of U.S. housing in a single semester has proven hugely helpful in clarifying my ideas about American housing politics. And it led, rather directly, to my work on the book Affordable Housing in New York (2016), which I co-edited, and wrote or co-wrote about half of, with Nick Bloom. Meanwhile, I recently published an article in Journal of Urban History (“Segregation by Design“) about how developers in the U.S. South used design to maintain racial boundaries in rental apartment complexes without flouting the law after passage of the Fair Housing Act. The primary example I look at is a swinging-singles complex built in the late 60s that I learned about from my students when I was teaching at Georgia State University. Had I not taught classes there on the history of U.S. suburbs and on U.S. cultural landscapes, I never would have known about these kinds of places. But, really, in every course I teach I learn so much from my students.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

It should go without saying I’m eager to have my own book done, although it’s still quite a way’s off. Working on a book about the Bay Area, and about speculative postwar housing, I’m most excited about several new(-ish) books on overlapping topics: Alison Isenberg’s Designing San Francisco: Art, Land, and Urban Renewal in the City by the Bay (2017), Ocean Howell’s Making the Mission: Planning and Ethnicity in San Francisco (2015), Barbara Miller Lane’s Houses For a New World: Builders and Buyers in American Suburbs 1945-1964 (2015), and James M. Jacobs’s Detached America: Building Houses in Postwar Suburbia (2015). I’m also quite excited for two non-scholarly books that have just been published: Progress & Prosperity: The New Chinese City as Global Urban Model (2017), edited by Daan Roggeveen, who previously wrote one my favorite books on contemporary urbanism in China, How the City Moved to Mr. Sun (2010); and The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, which the Brooklyn-based planning firm Interboro Partners (Tobias Armborst, Daniel D’Oca, and Georgeen Theodore) have assembled after more than a decade of work.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?

My advice for PhD candidates is to broaden. It’s important to have feasible, realistic research goals—no one should bite off more than they can chew, and I believe in the old adage that the best dissertation is a done dissertation. At the same time, I find that too many dissertations jump from literature review to the internecine, losing sight of the kinds of questions that are of interest to a general scholarly audience, and that will advance the field. Urban history, broadly conceived, is still inchoate, especially for non-UK topics. In U.S. urban history in particular we need dissertations that ask big, fundamental questions about the contours of urban change, and that challenge the field’s foundational texts, many of which reflect the anxieties of a very different era in the evolution of the American metropolis.

Do you find that researching and studying housing as a profession has made it easier or more difficult for you to find housing? Has it made you more critical about where (and in what kind of housing) you choose live? Or are you a broker/real estate agent’s dream client?

My preferences in housing have perhaps become somewhat more particular—I think a lot about things like internal circulation (in apartment buildings) and the number of exposures (in an apartment). Since entering the for-sale market (multifamily, naturally) I’ve also likely become a thorn in the side of agents. When we bought our current apartment I had the seller scrambling to find not just copies of the building by-laws and house rules, but the original offering plan, floor plans, evidence of building reserves and all kinds of other things that most people never think to ask for. And when I sublet, I insist that my tenant also have copies of most of these documents. The place we live is a condominium—so no board interview with a screening (or screaming, as one observer called it) committee—but if it had been a cooperative, I’m sure I’d have had more questions for them than they for me. I came away from my first book believing that multifamily homeownership can work—that it’s not a lot of gold bricks, as one critic worried—but I’m all too aware of the potential pitfalls.


Columbia and the Problem of Confederate Memorials

By Thomas J. Brown

Columbia comes logically to its current position at the forefront of the national debate over Confederate memorials. The city has a good claim to be both the place of birth and the place of death for the Confederacy. The antebellum South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina, was the academic hothouse of proslavery secessionist ideology. The political culture centered on the state capital provided the institutional framework through which the disunion campaign developed. The culminating secession convention met at First Baptist Church on December 17, 1860. Fear of a smallpox outbreak caused the delegates to finish their business in Charleston, but before they left Columbia they adopted a unanimous resolution to break from the United States.

Union soldiers who reached Columbia on February 17, 1865 after almost four years of war were eager to hold the city accountable for its leadership in the rebellion. The fires that destroyed the state house built in the 1790s and at least one-third of all other buildings in town resulted in part from high winds and local failure to destroy the stockpiles of alcohol that intoxicated federal troops and the cotton bales that spread flames, but the burning of Columbia served as an exclamation mark for the triumphant Union policy of hard war.[1] General William T. Sherman declared a few months later that “from the moment my army passed Columbia S. C. the war was ended.”

1970.525 (52)
George N. Barnard, The New Capitol, Columbia, S. C. Negative made in 1865,published in Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign (1866). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum.

Confederate memorials abound in Columbia in all forms, including cemeteries, statues, historic buildings, memorial trees, roadside plaques, and names of streets, parks, schools, and other locations. My book Civil War Canon: Sites of Confederate Memory in South Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2015) touched on many aspects of this profusion in a close look at the places of national significance–the grave of Confederate poet laureate Henry Timrod at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, the monuments to the exemplary Confederate man and woman at the state house, and the display of the Confederate battle flag at the state house.

It was no coincidence that two of those three chapters focused on the state house grounds, by far the most important public space in town. The state house has been crucial to the relationship between Columbia and the Confederacy since the decision to build a new capitol amid the acceleration of the secession movement in the 1850s. Located at the corner of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway and the Robert E. Lee Memorial Highway, the grounds present a remarkable array of Confederate commemorations, including flamboyant dramatization of the wounds suffered by the building in Sherman’s wartime attack.[2] Dell Upton’s What Can and Can’t Be Said: Race, Uplift, and Monument Building in the Contemporary South (Yale University Press, 2015) thoughtfully analyzes the ways in which this Confederate landscape inflects the African American History Monument unveiled at the state house in 2001. The tension between conflicting memorials epitomizes the challenge of reconfiguring the racial environment to realize the ideals of the civil rights movement.


Illustration 2
Wade Hampton Monument and African American History Monument at South Carolina state house. Courtesy of Dell Upton.

Columbia opened a new chapter in the history of Confederate memorialization with the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the state house grounds in July 2015. This decision responded to Columbia native Dylann Roof’s murder of nine African Americans at a Bible study session in Charleston and the subsequent discovery of a website at which Roof had recorded his hopes to start a race war and posted photographs of himself posing with the battle flag. To be sure, the South Carolina legislature aimed not to begin but to close a chapter by removing the flag; state celebrations of the southern cross had by then ended at all other capitols except through its incorporation in Mississippi’s state flag. But in the wake of the church massacre, the recoil against Confederate remembrance extended from the battle flag to monuments. Although protesters had begun to “tag” monuments after the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, calls for removal started to gather substantial momentum when New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu endorsed the “Take ‘Em Down NOLA” campaign four days after the discovery of Roof’s website. As that movement developed over the next two years and spread widely after the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, Columbia stood at the vanguard in the defense of Confederate memorials and even in the creation of new Confederate memorials.

South Carolina has furnished the model for the state legislation that has suppressed debate over the future of Confederate monuments in hundreds of southern cities and counties. The Heritage Act of 2000,  which moved the battle flag from the state house dome to a position near the state monument to the Confederate dead, provided that no war memorial (or Native American history or African American history memorial) installed on the property of the state or any political subdivision “may be relocated, removed, disturbed, or altered” and that no public site “named for any historic figure or historic event may be renamed.” This measure was much more purposeful and airtight than the Virginia law of 1904 and amendment of 1997 at issue in the recent controversy in Charlottesville. The South Carolina statute even purported to require a two-thirds vote for modification or repeal, despite the dubious enforceability of such provisions. Georgia followed suit in 2001 in conjunction with the controversy over the southern cross in its state flag, and Mississippi enacted parallel legislation in 2004. North Carolina adopted such a measure two weeks after South Carolina took down its Confederate battle flag in 2015. Tennessee, which had established restrictions in 2013, made them more difficult to overcome in 2016. Alabama passed a similar law in May 2017. The strategy has shifted authority over monuments in most of the former Confederacy from the wide variety of local communities to Republican-controlled state legislatures.

The experience of Columbia suggests the efficacy of the statutory regime in stifling opposition to Confederate remembrance. The legislative decision to raise the battle flag at the soldier monument in 2000, rather than removing it from the state house grounds, was opposed by twenty-two of the twenty-six black members of the House of Representatives and drew steady criticism from Columbia residents in the following fifteen years. Even the coach of the University of South Carolina football team, a stalwart of the local establishment, called for removal of the flag in 2007. The legislature remained adamantly committed to foreclosure of debate and did not revisit possible removal of the flag until forced to do so after the horrific murders at Emanuel AME church, in which one of the victims was a state senator. The region-wide laws that bar alteration or removal of memorials seem likely to eviscerate municipal reconsideration of Confederate monuments across the heart of the South, despite extraordinary examples of defiance in Durham, Memphis, and possibly Charlottesville.

Even apart from the suppressive legislation, Columbia illustrates the special powerlessness of a capital city to act on its residents’ opposition to icons of white supremacism. The Heritage Act of 2000 does not apply to the local monuments that have lately been most controversial, the state house tributes to Ben Tillman and J. Marion Sims. Neither work is what the Heritage Act calls a “War Between the States” memorial, though both men typified Confederate racial ideology. Disability prevented Tillman from serving in the Confederate army before he began his political career as a proponent of disfranchisement, segregation, and lynching. Sims left South Carolina for New York in the 1850s after his gynecological experiments on enslaved women helped him become the leading specialist in the country, and he decided to sit out the Civil War in Europe. Despite recent protests (and the plan of a New York City commission to remove a Sims statue in Central Park), these embodiments of white supremacism are probably as safe at the South Carolina state house as the marble figure of a Confederate soldier who continues to stand where the battle flag flew until July 2015.

In this season of iconoclasm, Columbia is instead focused on the installation of new Confederate memorials. Two projects have attracted national attention. Republican legislators Bill Chumley and Mike Burns, both of whom voted against removal of the Confederate battle flag in 2015, have introduced legislation to create an “African-American Confederate Veterans Monument Commission” that would redress the supposed neglect of black South Carolinians who supposedly took up arms for the proslavery republic. When told that extensive historical research on this precise topic has shown that no black South Carolinians fought for the Confederacy and that African Americans who labored in non-combatant roles were enslaved or pressed into duty without pay, the legislators told a newspaper reporter that “we don’t see that’s a problem.” With little prospect of passage, the proposal illustrates the aggressively provocative white supremacism and contempt for fact-based decision-making typical of the Republican party at the state as well as the federal level.


Illustration 3
Removal of Confederate battle flag from South Carolina state house, July 10, 2015. Courtesy of John Allen.

The older project stems from the removal of the Confederate battle flag at the state house in July 2015. The General Assembly provided that “upon its removal, the flag shall be transported to the Confederate Relic Room for appropriate display.” Separate legislation that took effect around the same time placed the Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum under the control of a commission composed of a member chosen by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, another chosen by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, three more appointed by the governor, two others appointed by the president of the senate, and finally, two members appointed by the speaker of the house. Taking its cue from legislators who had resisted removal of the flag at the state house and hoped to exhibit it alongside the Relic Room’s collection of wartime flags in a reverential setting, the commission asked the General Assembly in December 2015 for a $5.3 million appropriation and a 50% increase in annual operating expenditures to open a new wing in which the flag removed from the state house would be displayed in front of a jumbo-sized electronic screen that scrolled the names of the 22,000 (white) South Carolinians who died in the Confederate army. Despite widespread ridicule and the refusal of the state legislature to consider such a grand expenditure, the commission voted again in January 2017 to “vigorously advocate” its proposal.

Recent news reports indicate, however, that the commission may have become amenable to a plan set forth at the outset by Relic Room director Allen Roberson to seek an appropriation of approximately $400,000 to convert vacant offices into display space for the state house flag. The shift is interpretive as well as budgetary. Perhaps more alert than the commission to the implications of presenting the Dylann Roof flag alongside Confederate soldiers’ flags, Roberson argues that “the flag needs to be displayed separately from the military theme… It’s more of a political artifact.” He has suggested that the exhibition may trace the story of the southern cross from the war years through the present, with full attention to the campaign that brought removal of the flag from the state house dome in July 2000 and the circumstances that prompted its removal from the state house grounds in July 2015.[3] The Relic Room commission will decide at its upcoming February 15 meeting whether to present Roberson’s plan to the state legislature.

The discussions at the Confederate Relic Room prefigure, though in a different form, the debates likely to take place in many communities over the fate of Confederate memorials removed from public display and the addition of fresh contextual interpretation to Confederate memorials that remain on public display. For citizens of Columbia, the initiative at the Relic Room–like the statutory ban on alteration or removal of monuments–underscores legislative dominance in the capital landscape of remembrance. City residents and officials will need to be more creative to participate fully in the national reckoning with the Confederate legacy.

Picture at top: Drawing of Union Troops raising the American flag over the original South Carolina State House, illustration by William Waud appearing in Harper’s Weekly 9, April 8, 1865. 

brown_thomasThomas J. Brown is professor of history at the University of South Carolina.

[1] Mark Grimsley, The Hard Hand of War: Union Military Policy toward Southern Civilians, 1861-1865 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). For a vivid description of the fire, see Charles Royster, The Destructive War: William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), chap. 1.

[2] I discuss the local performance of victimhood in Thomas J. Brown, “Monuments and Ruins: Atlanta and Columbia Remember Sherman,” Journal of American Studies 51 (May 2017): 411-436.

[3] W. Eric Emerson, “Commemoration, Conflict, and Constraints: The Saga of the Confederate Battle Flag at the South Carolina State House,” in Interpreting the Civil War at Museums and Historic Sites ed. Kevin M. Levin (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), 87.

Member of the Week: Dakota Irvin

Irvin HS1Dakota Irvin

Doctoral Candidate in History

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I’m currently writing my dissertation on the history of the city of Ekaterinburg, Russia, during the Russian Revolution, Civil War, and first years of Soviet power (1917-1922). My research traces the experience and activities of institutions of municipal government during a time of state collapse and war, and how different regimes utilized local government to transform the urban landscape and shape the lives of its citizens. Essential components of urban life, such as general law and order, public works and construction, food provision, waste removal, and a multitude of others broke down, transformed, and were prioritized by different political factions seeking to build a new administrative state on the shattered foundations of the Russian Empire. I became interested in the topic of the Russian Civil War after I read Mikhail Sholokhov’s classic novel And Quiet Flows the Don. After spending time in the Urals cities of Cheliabinsk and Ekaterinburg for work and study, I decided I wanted to write a dissertation about this area, which is often neglected in the larger scholarship of the revolutionary time period.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

This spring I will be a teaching assistant for a course on how Russia became an empire, from pre-medieval times to the Crimean War of 1853-1856. As well, I am hoping to teach my own course this summer on world history since 1945, where I will emphasize the urban dimension of the time period by assigning books like Mike Davis’ Planet of Slums and Designing Tito’s Capital by Brigitte Le Normand. Cities have been a major driver of the economic, social, and political transformations of the second half of the twentieth century, and I plan to focus on the development of cities such as Shenzhen, Mumbai, Lagos, and many others to help tell the larger story of their countries and global history in general. Admittedly, until now I have been mostly engaged with the historiography of Russia and theoretical writings on the state and state building for my dissertation, but I am looking to expand both my research and teaching horizons by incorporating more concepts from urban history and theory.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

The centennial of the Russian Revolution last year led to an explosion of books, articles, special issues, and conferences, giving me plenty to read. However, most of all I have been looking forward to reading Yuri Slezkine’s 1,000-page epic The House of Government, a kind-of urban history of a major residential building in Moscow during Stalinism. The second volume of Stephen Kotkin’s biography of Stalin is also at the top of my list, but I would recommend his earlier work Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization, which is one of the finest urban histories of a Russian city. For the history of the Revolution it seems to me that Laura Engelstein’s Russia in Flames is the most interesting new survey/comprehensive account. Outside of Russian history, I’m intrigued by Darran Anderson’s Imaginary Cities and Alice Weinreb’s Modern Hungers: Food and Power in Twentieth-Century Germany.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?

For me, one of the most important aspects of researching my dissertation was spending time in the city I was writing about. Walking the streets of Ekaterinburg not only helped me choose my dissertation topic, but also allowed me to go to the exact location of the events I researched in the archives. My advice would be to select a city or space that you connect with and want to spend time in, as physical presence can help you understand people and events that would not be as clear from afar. Also, I would recommend thinking about cities comparatively and drawing on scholarship from other thematic fields and disciplines. While Russia has often been seen as the “other” compared to the Western world, reading histories of European cities demonstrated that there were nonetheless many universal components of the urban experience.

When you started working on your research topic, did you ever expect Russia would become so central to US political news? Has your approach to your topic shifted at all in the past year? And have noticed a change in how people react when you describe your topic?

This is a great question, and one I have been getting a lot lately since I returned from 16 months of dissertation research in Russia last month. When I first began studying Russia, one of my biggest complaints was that the country was largely ignored by the US media overall, and they were missing out on fascinating developments. However, in hindsight, it seems I got much more than I bargained for, and people are constantly asking me what I think of Vladimir Putin and the 2016 US elections. My approach to the dissertation hasn’t necessarily shifted since this newfound interest began, but I have begun following contemporary Russian politics more closely. I think studying local government and politics from 100 years ago in Russia allows me to better understand the complex inner workings of Russian politics and governance today, and highlights the often-superficial nature of US reporting on the topic. People have always been surprised or skeptical when I tell them I study Russia, but now when anyone asks the conversation immediately shifts to discussion of US politics, which I don’t always appreciate. All that being said, I’m cautiously glad that more people are becoming interested in Russia.

Printing the Good Fight: The Importance of Black Newspapers in Columbia, S.C.

Editor’s note: Both as part of our continuing coverage of the January Metropolis of the Month  Columbia, S.C. and as a nod to the Martin Luther King holiday, University of Minnesota Professor of Journalism, Sid Bedingfield provides an account of how the Black press in Columbia and the state more broadly, proved integral to the burgeoning civil rights movement in mid-century S.C. 

By Sid Bedingfield

South Carolina’s rich history of African American journalism dates back to Reconstruction, when Rev. Richard Harvey Cain launched the Missionary Record and declared it to be “steeped in the spirit of black independence.” Cain had been sent to Charleston to revive the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, which had been banned in South Carolina since the Denmark Vesey slave rebellion of 1822. Cain added a second newspaper, the South Carolina Leader, in 1872, and he used the secular journal to propel his successful campaign for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that year.

By the turn of the twentieth century, “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and his white supremacist allies had imposed the terror of Jim Crow rule in the state. The few black newspapers that survived tempered their voices and embraced the cautious strategy of Booker T. Washington. From his base at the Tuskegee Institute, Washington used his fundraising prowess with white philanthropists to develop a political network to empower his supporters in the black community and to punish those who dissented. As his biographer, Louis R. Harlan noted, Washington used his wellspring of white financial donations “to buy black newspapers and bend their editorials to his viewpoint, to control college professors and presidents . . . to infiltrate the leading church denominations and fraternal orders.”

[Main Street, Columbia, South Carolina], 1901, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
In Columbia, Rev. Richard Carroll’s Plowman and J.A. Roach’s Southern Indicator received financial support from Washington’s so-called “Tuskegee Machine.” In return, the two South Carolina editors carried Washington’s message of racial uplift and political accommodation across the state. “When the white man uplifts himself,” Carroll wrote at the time, “he will be followed by the Negro at a respectful distance, but when he lowers himself to the plane of the Negro, the Negro will get out his place and trouble will be brewed.”

Yet both Carroll and Roach came to symbolize black ambivalence toward this accommodationist strategy. By World War I, when black activists launched the first NAACP branch in Columbia, both editors had dropped their obsequious tone and begun to challenge the white supremacist Democrats who ruled the state. It was time for blacks “to come into their own” and demand better schools, better wages, and better legal protection, Carroll said. Roach’s Indicator became a close ally of the NAACP in Columbia.

By the mid-1920s, that brief stirring of African American activism had been crushed by a white backlash that included mob violence and economic retribution. The NAACP branches grew mostly dormant, despite the best efforts of a few stalwart holdouts. One of those, attorney Nathaniel Frederick, launched the Palmetto Leader, and used it to expose lynching in the state and to call for a federal anti-lynching law.

“Clean and well-kept Negro shack near Columbia, South Carolina (Monticello Road)”, 1938, Marion Post Wolcott, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

When the Depression arrived, Frederick’s newspaper toned down its editorial voice to appease white supremacists and to preserve what little advertising it had from white businesses. By the time of Frederick’s death in 1938, the newspaper had devolved into a church and society paper that rarely mentioned civil rights or political concerns.

Angered by this turn of events, Columbia activist Modjeska Monteith Simkins looked for a new voice that could rally black support for the NAACP in South Carolina. Emboldened by Roosevelt’s New Deal, Simkins and a handful of activists searched for what she called a “fighting news organ” that would join forces with the civil rights organization.

At the time, John Henry McCray had launched the Carolina Lighthouse in Charleston and was stirring up trouble with his aggressive reporting on police brutality and misconduct. McCray was a young college graduate who had returned to the Lowcountry in 1935. He had “a knack for newspaper writing,” Simkins said, and McCray seemed to be fearless. In Charleston, city officials had detained him briefly for his coverage disputing rape allegations lodged against a black doctor in nearby McCellanville, and they had raised the fee for his business license an effort to shut down his newspaper.

Lighthouse & Informer Front Page_1951
Front page of The Lighthouse and Informer, July 28, 1951, Courtesy South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina

Simkins and her NAACP allies persuaded McCray to merge his paper with the smaller Sumter Informer and move the operation to Columbia. In December 1941, the Lighthouse and Informer hit the streets for the first time.

In the early 1940s, McCray had a close working relationship with C.A. Scott, editor and publisher of the Atlanta Daily World, the only daily black newspaper in the country. But McCray’s strategy for confronting white supremacy differed markedly from Scott’s cautious approach. In 1942, for example, McCray published an exposé on the treatment of African American prisoners who worked on chain gangs in South Carolina. When angry white leaders in Columbia accused the newspaper of damaging race relations, a worried McCray wrote to Scott for advice on how to respond. The Atlanta publisher encouraged McCray “to take a more positive attitude rather than a challenging attitude” when dealing with “prejudiced white people.” McCray rejected Scott’s advice and delivered a defiant response to his white critics. The Lighthouse and Informer “is published by and for colored citizens,” McCray wrote. “They alone will determine what is good or bad for them.”

McCray’s newspaper lasted until 1954, and it helped nurture an extraordinary–and often overlooked–decade of African American political assertiveness in the South. NAACP membership in South Carolina increased from fewer than eight hundred in the mid-1930s to more than fourteen thousand in 1948, with a central state conference of branches coordinating activity across the organization’s eighty-six chapters. McCray used his newspaper to launch a political organization, the Progressive Democratic Party, and to challenge the legality of the state’s all-white Democratic Party. The PDP boosted black voter registration from fewer than four thousand in the early 1940s to more than seventy thousand by the end of the decade.

[Untitled photo, possibly related to: Public health doctor giving tenant family medicine for malaria, near Columbia, South Carolina], June 1939, Marion Post Wolcott, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
The new movement won a string of victories during the 1940s. Black South Carolinians overturned the state’s system of unequal pay for black teachers, won the right to participate in Democratic Party primaries, influenced the outcome of a U.S. Senate election, and filed a school desegregation suit in rural Clarendon County that would lead to Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case outlawing segregation in public schools.

McCray’s newspaper stood at the center of this new black activism. The Lighthouse and Informer rallied support for a direct assault on white supremacy and demonized those in the black community who refused to join the fight. But the young editor paid a price for his success. His newspaper work cost him his marriage, sent him to jail for two months for criminal libel, and eventually forced him to leave South Carolina to look for work. His relationship with Simkins deteriorated into an ugly feud over political strategy and financial issues in the 1950s, and the two never reconciled.

McCray’s efforts at the Lighthouse and Informer and his work with Simkins and the NAACP would have a lasting impact on his adopted home of Columbia and on his home state. His newspaper helped revive and sustain black activism in South Carolina during a critical period, when the state’s black community was slowly shedding its accommodationist approach to white supremacy but remained uncertain about the merits of direct confrontation. . In the 1940s and early 50s, the newspaper rallied African Americans to support NAACP efforts to challenge Jim Crow rule in court, particularly in the teacher-pay and Clarendon County school desegregation cases, and it was instrumental in helping African Americans gain access to the Democratic Party – the only political party that mattered in what was functionally a one-party state. As one historian put it, the NAACP activists who led the fight in Columbia and across South Carolina in the 1940s served as the “vanguard” of the massive civil rights struggle that would emerge across the South in the following decade.

Bedingfield Head Shot.jpgSid Bedingfield is an assistant professor in the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota and is the author of Newspaper Wars: Civil Rights and White Resistance in South Carolina, 1935-1965, published in 2017 by the University of Illinois Press.



Photo at top: Looking down Main Street from Skyscaper building, showing State Capitol, Columbia, S.C., U.S.A., Keystone View Company, 1905, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 


ICYMI: The First One of 2018 Edition

The Metropole stormed into January with some great content, setting the tone for an exciting year. What were our New Years resolutions, you ask? We simply have one: to continue putting out the kind of great research and reflection that makes our blog the digital hub for urban history, read by experts and enthusiasts alike.

Last week we kicked off our first Metropolis of the Month for 2018 with John Sherrer’s bibliography of Columbia, South Carolina. This capitol city is hosting our upcoming Urban History Association Biennial Conference in October, and after reading Sherrer’s sweeping overview of the city’s history I have a better sense of Columbia’s early development, its role in the Civil War, and its evolution throughout the twentieth century. We also featured a post by Robert Greene II about Congaree Swamp (now Congaree National Park) and the role it played in sustaining Columbia’s black community from slavery through the end of the nineteenth century. As Greene writes:

Understanding the story of African American resilience in Congaree is key to knowing more about the history of African American freedom in South Carolina and across the United States. For African Americans, land was power. Self-sufficiency and free labor meant freedom. All of this was proven time and again in Congaree.

Stay tuned next week for more posts about Columbia, including a history of South Carolina’s black press and some insight into the difficulty of removing Confederate monuments.

In addition to our Metropolis of the Month coverage, we also announced the winner of the inaugural UHA/The Metropole Grad Student Blogging Contest, placed our first book on The Metropole Book Shelf, and published a historian’s reaction the “new” trend among urban policy makers for land-value taxes.

For those in SoCal, also make sure not to miss the upcoming sessions of the LA History & Metro Studies Group.

For UHA Grad Students, check out the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in History Education at the Museum of the City of New York–applications are due on March 7. It’s $30,900 for two days per week of work, plus relocation expenses! I rarely wish I could rewind the clock and do grad school over again, but when I read about this fellowship I felt sad that I’d missed the opportunity to work at one of my favorite museums.

Also for UHA Grad Students, Carnegie Mellon University’s digital scholarship center, dSHARP, is offering a paid eight week summer internship–one of the projects is urban oriented (Bridges of Pittsburgh). Improve those DH skills and spend the summer in the great city of Pittsburgh? That’s a hard deal to beat.

For the Americanists in our ranks, the deadline to submit for the 2019 OAH Conference has been extended until January 23.

And finally, we close with our customary dose of humor:

Faithfully yours,

The Editors