Category Archives: Columbia

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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 


Congaree National Park: Gateway to a Historical Legacy

By Robert Greene II

The history of Columbia, and of South Carolina more generally, would look markedly different if it were not for the existence of the Congaree Swamp. Being a home for Native Americans, a place of mystery for Europeans, and a refuge for escaped slaves, Congaree Swamp—now a National Park—is a unique part of Columbia’s history. Working alongside colleagues at the University of South Carolina and Congaree National Park, we’ve chronicled the multiple stories of Congaree and related them to the history of Columbia for a Historic Resource Survey. Here, I shall tie in Congaree’s story with that of the African American population of South Carolina, a unique story with consequences for the state and the entire United States.

Large group of African Americans, possibly enslaved persons, standing in front of buildings on Smith’s Plantation, Beaufort, South Carolina, 1862, Timothy O’Sullivan, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Slavery shaped South Carolina in incalculable ways, and Congaree was no exception. For example, Congaree National Park includes the cattle mounts, installed by enslaved Africans, used to herd cattle during moments of severe flooding.[1] However, slaves in Congaree, like enslaved Africans across the Western Hemisphere, struggled to hold on to their culture and history from Africa. In addition, slaves often performed everyday acts of resistance in another form of defending some semblance of autonomy. However, the growth of Maroon communities in Congaree during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries demonstrates how some Africans desired not merely autonomy but freedom and a new community. South Carolina was rocked by a Maroon named Joe, who in 1821 became a wanted man by the South Carolina state government. He was unique in being recognized as a “leader” among the Maroon community in the region. The two-year manhunt for Joe and his band of escaped slaves—coinciding with aborted Denmark Vesey slave uprising centered in Charleston—made the government of South Carolina deeply concerned about how best to keep slaves from fomenting future revolts.[2]

African American political and economic independence became the theme of black history in Congaree after the American Civil War. Once the war was over, the question of how best to get African Americans ready for post-emancipation life would dominate Congress and Southern legislatures. Despite the success of the 1862 Homestead Act, Congress’ 1866 Southern Homestead Act failed to do for African Americans what the Homestead Act did for thousands of white Americans and European immigrants: provide useful land with which to farm and be self-sufficient. By 1868, African Americans at South Carolina’s constitutional convention knew that the black citizens of the state desperately needed land to have a voice in state and national politics. To that end, the South Carolina Land Commission was proposed and came into effect in the spring of 1869.[3] South Carolina was the only state in the South to undertake the audacious experiment of giving land to African Americans—a version of the “forty acres and a mule” once promised by General William T. Sherman’s Field Order Number 15.[4]

The Land Commission’s mandate was simple: sell land that once belonged to the state’s powerful plantation owners to anyone willing to buy—and work—the land. Those who bought the land had to own it for a certain length of time and pay the debt accrued to purchase the parcel. Once the debt was fully paid off, the land belonged to the buyer. Although the program was open to all South Carolinians, most poorer whites in the state declined to enroll in the program, joining instead with members of the planter class to boycott the Republican state government.[5] Congaree itself provided some of the land sold via the Land Commission, with the present-day Hunt Tract including parcels of land that were sold via the Commission in the late 1860s. It was an example of what state Republican leaders insisted on: that African American political power needed the solid foundation of land ownership.

South Carolina–The November election–The dead-lock in the state legislature at Columbia, 1876, Harry Ogden, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Eventually, despite attempts by Secretary of State Francis Cardozo to salvage the program, the Land Commission would be continually savaged by white Democrats in the state. After Democrats returned to political power in Columbia in 1876, they would target fiscal wrongdoing in the Land Commission during the 1860s and 1870s in politically motivated hearings. While poor whites would also purchase parcels from the Land Commission by the late 1870s—owning 68,355 acres of land (compared to 44,579 acres owned by African Americans)—the Land Commission was dead by 1889 due to political decisions.[6]

However, the African American political leaders of Reconstruction-era South Carolina were eventually proven right—land ownership would secure a class of black citizens who would remain politically active for decades to come. The relationship between African Americans and Congaree would come to be symbolized by the community of Lower Richland. Located within Richland County, the location of Columbia and also Congaree National Park, Lower Richland has long served as an example of strong African American familial, economic, political, and economic self-determination in South Carolina. For instance, most of the leadership of the Lower Richland chapter of the Colored Farmers Alliance, an organization born in the late 1880s as part of the broader Populist movement, were African Americans who purchased their land through the Land Commission.[7] The stories of people such as Samuel and Harriet Barber are also important here. Owning land in Lower Richland, the Barbers would also create St. John Baptist Church in 1875 and continue to practice economic self-sufficiency for decades.[8]

Plowing in South Carolina, Oct 1866, Jas. E. Taylor, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The experience in Lower Richland and the Congaree area for African Americans from 1865 until 1900 was unique in comparison with African Americans in other parts of the state. It would bear a strong comparison with African Americans living on the coast as part of the Gullah-Geechee culture. Both groups practiced self-sufficiency and held on to some modicum of independence during the era of Jim Crow segregation. However, what makes Lower Richland’s community unique compared to even Gullah’s community was their importance to African American political fortunes during the Reconstruction and Populist periods. While African Americans in the rest of South Carolina struggled to exercise power, the Lower Richland community practiced outsized influence in the Legislature and in black political groups.

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.

robert greene photo.jpgRobert Greene II is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the University of South Carolina. He is currently finishing a dissertation on African Americans and Southern political history, and is a graduate research assistant in the Institute for Southern Studies. He is also a blogger and book review editor for the Society of U.S. Intellectual Historians, and has been published at Politico, Dissent, The Atlantic, and elsewhere. (@robgreeneII)

Photo at top: Gervais Street Bridge, Gervais Street spanning Congaree River, Columbia, Richland County, SC, 1986, Jack E. Boucher, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

[1] “Cooner’s Cattle Mount, Richland County,”

[2] Tim Lockley and David Doddington. “Maroon and Slave Communities in South Carolina in 1865,” The South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 113, No. 2, April 2012, pp. 125-145. See also, Ryan Quintana, “Planners, Planters, and Slaves: Producing the State in Early National South Carolina,” Journal of Southern History, Volume LXXXI, Number 1, February 2015.


[3] Almlie, Elizabeth, et. Al., “Prized Pieces of Land: The Impact of Reconstruction on African-American Land Ownership in Lower Richland County, South Carolina.” University of South Carolina, May 2009, pp. 14-15.

[4] “Sherman’s Field Order No. 15,”

[5] Bleser, Carol K. Rothrock. The Promised Land: The History of the South Carolina Land Commission, 1869-1890. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1969, p. 30.

[6] Bleser, 144.

[7] Rebecca Bush, “Owning Home: African American Agriculture in Lower Richland County, South Carolina, 1868-1890,” MA Thesis, 2011, p. 21

[8] Aimlie, et. Al., p. 65-67

Capital on the Congaree: A Bibliography for Columbia, S.C.

By John Sherrer

Columbia, South Carolina was intentionally designed to be a very livable city from its inception. Founded in 1786 as the Palmetto State’s second capital, its location holds both geographic and symbolic meanings. The city’s original two-mile-by-two-mile footprint was set atop a plain overlooking the Congaree River at the state’s fall line, where the waterway ceased to be navigable from the coast. Conveniently, this natural crossroads rested in the middle of the state, a benefit to lawmakers interested in achieving political parity between Lowcounty elites and growing numbers of backcountry citizens.

As with most fledgling towns or cities, Columbia developed at its own pace and in its own style. Early impressions of this upstart capital, as can be imagined, differed. During his May 1791 visit, George Washington recorded it as “. . . an uncleared wood, with very few houses in it, and those all wooden ones . . ..” A few years later, in 1805, Connecticut native Edward Hooker opined, “There is very little verdure in the town; the soil being too dry and sandy to produce grass. Consequently, the streets are very deficient in that life and freshness of appearance which usually prevails in the towns of New England.”


Image 1
Detail of Mills Atlas of South Carolina, 1825
Columbia’s grid-patterned footprint and relationship to waterways featured prominently in Robert Mills’ survey of Richland District. Historic Columbia collection


Further commentators offered their perspectives on the city’s climate . . .

We thought the heat of Philadelphia, New York, and Albany, about this time last year, excessive; but at Columbia its effects in prostrating the strength, and destroying all energy and all capacity for action, was even still greater . . . . I never have suffered so much inconvenience from the heat in Bengal, or any part of India. The soil is extremely sandy, but this contributes much to the healthiness of this place . . .” James Silk Buckingham, 1841


Image 2
South Carolina College, 1850
Among the handful of drawings and paintings that artist Eugene Dovilliers depicted of Columbia during the 1840s through 1860s is this likeness of what is today known as the “Horseshoe” at the University of South Carolina. Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia.


By the time the well-traveled English author rendered his assessment of the capital city, Columbia had evolved for two generations. Its physical growth included the founding of South Carolina College (1801), the construction of notable public and private buildings and the accumulation of great wealth made possible by the slave-based, agricultural economy that permeated all aspects of life in the city, state and region. By the 1830s, Columbia had matured into what its planners had envisioned: a seat of state government and a center of commerce, transportation and education. By the middle of the 19th century, in 1851, Daniel Webster found Columbia to be “one of the handsomest and nicest looking of our little inland cities.”


Image 3
Columbia circa 1859. German immigrant artist Augustus Grinevald rendered his impression of the capital city shortly before the Civil War. Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia


Shortly thereafter, amid this antebellum grandeur, representatives throughout the state gathered at what is today First Baptist Church, not with worship in their hearts but with secession on their minds. While the Union was dissolved slightly later and farther southeast, in Charleston in December 1860, Columbia’s reputation as the birthplace of secession left an indelible impression upon locals and people from away. A little more than four years later, 1/3 of the city lay in fiery ruins, as the Civil War Columbians helped start had returned to its place of origin. (The blame behind the conflagrations remains a hotly debated topic in some circles.)


Image 4
Columbia, 1865. The April 1, 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly featured a series of panoramic images of Columbia detailing the city’s partial destruction two month earlier. Historic Columbia collection, HCF 2009.3.1

While physical recovery from the war came in fits and starts, a sea change in the social and racial order that had defined the city for its existence arguably brought greater change more rapidly. As the state capital, Columbia was ground zero for many of the opportunities Reconstruction offered people of color, newly enfranchised and freed, and white citizens who had formerly ceded power to planter elites. Visitor Richard M’Ilwaine penned in 1870, “Columbia was a most agreeable place of residence . . . Its broad avenues, lined with two, three, or four rows of stately oaks, gave it an air of delightful repose. Its fine mansions, sometimes occupying a whole square, surrounded by roses, evergreens and other shrubs and trees, added dignity to the scene, while its less pretentious cottages with their broad verandas were pleasing and attractive . . . .”

Image 5.jpg
Birdseye Map, 1872C. Drie’s Birdseye Map of the City of Columbia, South Carolina, sold for $5 when released in 1872, during the middle of the Reconstruction era. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

This flirtation with a new order proved brief, as Columbia and the remainder of the state slipped back into the antebellum racial status quo with the end of Federal support for Reconstruction’s policies and a re-affirmation of power by former Confederates powerbrokers. “Old South” values underpinned an evolving New South city, an odd coexistence that lasted for the better part of the next century. Paying homage to old traditions, leaders erected monuments to fallen soldiers, aging or dead politicians and to past events for whom meaning was billed as universal, all the while championing the city’s temperate climate, cultural attraction and capable workforce. With these assets in hand, Columbians were poised to build their hometown into a New South city with all the hallmarks of modernity one would expect of such a distinction – large mills, skyscrapers, public transit and fashionable homes.


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Columbia, circa 1875
Many advancements made by African Americans during Reconstruction were curtailed during the advent of Jim Crow. Here a child laborer operates an oxcart during the mid-1870s. Historic Columbia collection, HCF 2016.5.1



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1600 Block of Main Street, circa 1880
Many commercial enterprises established after Main Street’s destruction during the Civil War would operate for decades thereafter. Today, some of the buildings in which these businesses operated are being put to new uses. Image courtesy of Lynn Boyd


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Main Street, circa 1895
By the late 19th century, Columbia was in the process of turning itself into a New South City by embracing the hallmarks of modernity. Soon after, the city’s early skyscrapers would pierce the skyline. Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia

International conflict brought opportunity as Columbians, who once looked askance at Washington leaders, embraced Federal funds that came with the founding in 1917 of Camp Jackson. One of the many World War I cantonment centers established throughout the state, today Fort Jackson ranks as the nation’s largest Army basic training facility. Within the shadows of success lurked deeper issues—educational and health disparities, racial strife and urban decay, all of which were both predicated on and prolonged by Jim Crow laws. In the aftermath of the War to End All Wars, some progressives lobbied for and, to an extent, enjoyed partial improvements to these conditions, but it would not be until the decades following World War II, a period in which Columbia saw extensive growth and redevelopment, that greater change would be realized.

Image 9
World War I Victory Parade, April 1919
The establishment of Camp Jackson in 1917 forever altered Columbia geographically, socially and financially. Historic Columbia collection


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Powell Residence, circa 1920
Early suburbanization included many remarkable houses, such as the Prairie Style Powell House in Melrose Heights, and more numerous bungalows, cottages and American Four-Square residences. Image courtesy of the Powell family

Like cities throughout the United States, Columbia in the 1950s through early 1970s was forever altered by Urban Renewal, which reduced generations-old inner-city neighborhoods to either memories or a shell of their former selves. In their place came the University of South Carolina, state, local and federal government and new development that paved the way for a new vision of a city enjoying the prosperity longed for during the lean times of the 1930s and war years. Mid-century architecture reshaped how people interacted—how they worked, recreated and lived—in the city and in its second-generation suburbs, which bloated as upper- and middle-income residents sought larger houses on more land. The stakes were high for those whose commute went from a reasonable walk or a short car ride to a prolonged trip downtown. Widening of main thoroughfares and the building of interstates offered some respite while further stimulating sprawl, a story played out elsewhere throughout the country time and time again. Columbia’s commercial vitality migrated from downtown to the ever-increasing number of suburban malls floating in seas of pavement, a trend that would be repeated every decade into the early 21st century.

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Widening of Streets, 1955
Post-World War II infrastructural improvements, implemented to enhance automobile ingress and egress to Columbia, would drastically change the character of many 19th and early 20th century primary roads, including the destruction of buildings, yards and community cohesion. Image courtesy of South Carolina Department of Transportation




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Urban Renewal, circa 1955
During the late 1950s through 1960s, Columbia leaders set their sights on removing downtown poor and working-class neighborhoods through a “Fight Blight” program whose results heavily impacted African American citizens. Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia


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Civil Rights, circa 1963
Like in other southern cities, activists demonstrated along Columbia’s Main Street and at lunch counters during the early 1960s. Today, telling those stories is a central part of the ColumbiaSC63 initiative’s work. Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia

Concurrent with these larger trends was an appreciation for downtown amenities and a rebirth in interest for older buildings, which had, by the later 1980s, enjoyed a tenuous following. A redefinition of what defined a livable city offered surer footing by the later 1990s and early 2000s, as entrepreneurs, historic preservationists and city planners met success in adapting old buildings to new uses through various incentives. Old department stores, office buildings and textile mills found new life as condominiums or apartments for new urban dwellers—college age through empty nesters—who flock to unique living arrangements. Nearly a generation old, this reinvestment in Columbia has placed the capital city at an interesting crossroad, but one whose paths have been trod, to an extent, by earlier citizens. Revitalization pays great dividends to many while running the risk of displacing long-time owners or tenants. Finding new uses for old places and filling in blank tracts can make for an aesthetically stunning skyline. Meanwhile, such improvement and growth can encourage homogeneity resulting in a monolithic character not in tune with contemporary aspirations for a truly modern city.


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1600 Main Street, 1975
The success of suburban malls during the 1960s through 1980s sapped much of Main Street’s commercial vitality, often leaving behind empty buildings that had been reskinned in mid-20th century slipcover facades in the hope of retaining patrons. Image courtesy of Richland Library

With developers and entrepreneurs adapting 19th and early 20th-century buildings to new uses, Columbia’s Main Street has enjoyed a renaissance during the past decade. Today, Columbia is known as “the real southern hotspot,” which speaks to both its storied climate, as well as its burgeoning attractions.

To learn more about how South Carolina’s capital city got to where it is today, consider exploring the following resources that speak to the history of Columbia, either in a general or detailed sense:
Print Resources

Deas-Moore, Vennie. Columbia, South Carolina. Black America Series. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.

Edgar, Walter B. and Deborah K. Woolley. Columbia:  Portrait of a City. Norfolk, VA: The Donning Company, Publishers, 1986.

Nell S. Graydon. Tales of Columbia. Columbia, SC: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1964.

Helsley, Alexia. Lost Columbia: Bygone Images from South Carolina’s Capital. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008.

Hennig, Helen Kohn ed., Columbia: Capital City of South Carolina, 1786-1936. Columbia, SC:  The R.L. Bryan Company, 1936.

Israel, Charles and Elizabeth Durant. Columbia College. The College History Series. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

Jansen, John. Going to Blazes: A 200-Year Illustrated History of the Columbia, South Carolina Fire & Rescue Service, 1804-2004. Evansville, IN: M.T. Publishing Company, Inc., 2005.

Lumpkin, Alva M. Vignettes of Early Columbia and Surroundings. Columbia, SC: The R.L. Bryan Company, 2000.

Maxey, Russell. South Carolina’s Historic Columbia: Yesterday and Today in Photographs. Columbia, SC: The R.L Bryan Company, 1980.

Montgomery, John A. Columbia, SC:  History of a City. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1979.

Montgomery, Warner M. Eau Claire Memories: A Pictorial History of the Eau Claire  Neighborhood in Columbia, South Carolina, 1890-2000. Columbia, SC: The Columbia Star, 2000.

Montgomery, Warner M. Shandon Memories: A Pictorial History of Shandon, a Neighborhood in Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia, SC: The Columbia Star, 2000.

Moore, John Hammond. Columbia and Richland County: A South Carolina Community, 1740-1990. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1993.

Salsi, Lynn Sims. Columbia: History of a Southern Capital. The Making of America Series. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.

Scott, J. Edwin. Random Recollections of a Long Life, 1806-1876. Columbia, SC: Charles A. Calvo, 1884.

Selby, Julian A. Memorabilia and Anecdotal Reminisces of Columbia, South Carolina. Columbia, SC: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1905. (REPRINTED 1970)

Sennema, David C. and Martha D. Columbia, South Carolina: A Postcard History. Postcard History Series. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 1997.

Sherrer III, John M. Remembering Columbia. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2015.

Williams, J. F. Old and New Columbia. Columbia, SC: Epworth Orphanage Press, 1929.

West, Elizabeth Cassidy and Katharine Thompson Allen. On the Horseshoe: A Guide to the Historic Campus of the University of South Carolina. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2015.

Woody, Howard. South Carolina Postcards, Volume V: Richland County. Postcard History Series. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2000.

Web Resources

Allison Baker, Jennifer Betsworth, Rebecca Bush, Sarah Conlon, Evan Kutzler, Justin McIntyre, Elizabeth Oswald, Jamie Wilson, and JoAnn Zeise, Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801–1865. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Libraries, 2011).

Historic Columbia, Web-Based Tours of Columbia. (Columbia, SC: Historic Columbia Foundation, 2017).

Richland Library, Russell Maxey Photograph Collection. (Columbia, SC: Richland Library, 2013).

Richland Library, South Carolina Postcards Collection. (Columbia, SC: Richland Library, 2017).

South Carolina State Museum. Standard Federal Photo Collection Columbia, SC 1865-1980. (Columbia, SC: South Carolina Digital Library, 2009).

South Caroliniana Library, John Hensel Photograph Collection. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Libraries, 2008).

South Caroliniana Library, Joseph E. Winter Photograph Collection. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Libraries, 2007).

South Caroliniana Library, View of Columbia, S.C. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Libraries, 2007).

Columbia SC 63. Our Story Matters. (Columbia, SC: Historic Columbia Foundation, 2017).

A Columbia native, John has served Historic Columbia in a variety of curatorial and administrative capacities since 1996. In his current position as Director of Cultural Resources, he recently authored Remembering Columbia, which chronicles South Carolina’s capital city from its earliest years through the late 1970s. Previous museum experience includes stints at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, the National Trust’s Drayton Hall Plantation, Old York Historical Society in York, Maine and Strawbery Banke Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

He holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English and history and a Masters of Arts in English from Clemson University, a Masters in Public History from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in museum management from McKissick Museum. Continuing education has involved a summer program with the Museum of Southern Decorative Arts and a certificate from the Southeastern Museum Conference’s Jekyll Island Management Institute.