Memories, Stories Sought at DeReef Park History Harvest
Charleston, S.C.—The City of Charleston, Gullah Society and National Park Service are hosting a public History Harvest for DeReef Park and the surrounding neighborhood Thursday, Jan. 19, 6 to 8 p.m. at 75 Calhoun Street, in the third floor conference room. Parking is available in the Gaillard Center parking garage at 32 Alexander Street.
Community members are invited to attend and share their stories, objects and documents—photographs, letters, family bibles and genealogies, certificates, obituaries, newspaper articles—to help create a shared history of DeReef park and the adjacent neighborhood, bordered by Cannon Street to the north, Morris Street to the south, Smith Street to the West and Felix Street to the east.
During the free event, oral histories will be recorded and digital copies of documents and objects will be made on-site, so that participants are able to keep their materials. The stories captured will be used to create interpretive signs and will be made into a report that will be available to the public for general educational use and study.
Joanna Gilmore with the Gullah Society remarked, “The purpose of the history harvest is to ensure that memories and stories are preserved and that they contribute to the understanding of the diverse history of the DeReef Park neighborhood and Charleston as a whole.”
“The National Park Service welcomes the opportunity to participate in this worthwhile endeavor,” Michael Allen, community partnership specialist with the National Park Service, added. “We encourage the community to come, participate and share in this public engagement gathering. The success of the Dereef Park project depends on your continued support and trust in the process.”
DeReef Park, located on Morris Street, between Felix and Smith Streets, is named after two brothers, Joseph (1802-1876) and Richard Edward DeReef (1798-1876), who purchased the land in 1854. From this time until the 1960s, the neighborhood was home to a vibrant African-American community.
To ensure compliance with the Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act and as part of the conversion of a portion of DeReef Park, the city agreed to research and conduct an architectural field survey of DeReef Park and the neighborhood. The city will host the History Harvest, which is the first of two public meetings being hosted, to acquire oral histories and photographs, letters and other documents to help preserve the history of the area. The second event will be scheduled to take place in early spring.
For the Forgotten African-American Dead
Written by Brian Palmer, January 7th, 2017
Richmond, Va. — To get to East End Cemetery in Henrico County, Va., an abandoned African-American graveyard, my wife, Erin, and I drive through a predominantly black Richmond neighborhood — our neighborhood. Decades of neglect have turned this once beautiful burial ground into woodland. We’re part of a volunteer effort that has reclaimed about two and a half of East End’s 16 acres since it began in 2013.
Thick, tangled vegetation has swallowed headstones and grave markers. The chest-high spring and summer growth is gone or going, so we’re left with the year-round die-hards that have grown every which way over the decades — English ivy, brambles, privet. Chinese sumac sprouts everywhere and has grown tree-high and tree-thick, competing with and winning against cedar and oak. Beneath it, we find pockets of illegally dumped trash. We also find headstones, fragments and corners of which Erin spots beneath the carpet of ivy. I tend to find them with my feet, by tripping over them.
Even sections we call “clear” will look scruffy and forlorn to people accustomed to manicured cemeteries. There is no lawn, just a patchwork — weeds, dead brown leaves, bare earth. Headstones are cracked, askew, even shattered, by nature or by vandals. Encroaching tree roots have buckled and broken concrete curbs that once enclosed family plots.
Brian Palmer is a photographer, a writer and an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on January 8, 2017, on Page SR2 of the New York edition with the headline: For the Forgotten African-American Dead
Lawmakers to Consider Extra Funding For Historically Black Cemeteries
By Mallory Noe-Payne • Jan 4, 2017
After integration, historically black cemeteries around the state fell to the wayside, often unkempt, uncared for, and forgotten. Now a state lawmaker is hoping to bring them some much-needed attention. Mallory Noe-Payne has more.
State Delegate Dolores McQuinn first heard about Evergreen in the 1990’s. The historically black cemetery outside Richmond is the final resting place of some of the region’s most famous African-American leaders. But for years it lay overgrown.
“And so I just thought it was absolutely imperative that people come together realize the rich history that’s there and that the cemetery needed perpetual care,” recalls McQuinn.
To help provide that care, McQuinn -- a Democrat from Richmond -- is the state chip in $5 per grave. She hopes that funding can join with local efforts, not just for Richmond’s cemeteries but across the state.
"Hopefully if we can find resources that this would encourage and inspire other communities to begin to identify those sites," she says. "And let’s begin to mark them and if at all possible (find out) who’s in those particular cemeteries?"
McQuinn argues that money has been set aside to care for Confederate graves; she hopes fellow lawmakers will see equal importance in this history.
Gullah-Geechee institute students starting fieldwork this spring
BY CHRISTIAN BOSCHULT
Dec 29th, 2016, CONWAY
Students at Coastal Carolina University will begin fieldwork studying the Gullah-Geechee culture this spring. The Gullah-Geechee culture is made up of descendents of West African slaves brought to the Southeast United States in the 1700s for purposes of rice cultivation, said institute director and CCU professor Veronica Davis Gerald.
Students at The Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies will do fieldwork examining the impact that the Gullah culture and its diaspora has had on South Carolina and the Grand Strand, as well as studying how public policy and tourism has affected the culture.
Gerald said the institute will allow students from other areas of study to look at the connections between the Gullah-Geechee culture and each student’s major or minor.
“If you’re an archeologist you might be interested in digging at a plantation or an area where slave cabins were,” said Gerald. “If you’re a historian you might be interested in the story of what happened when the people at the Brookgreen plantation remained on the plantation after freedom.”
We’re looking to help that community, to give a voice to their community in the state legislature, to implement policy to protect their land loss. Kelly Shelton, CCU student
Some activities in the institute could involve printing the stories of “elderly” members of the Gullah-Geechee community and reciprocal learning, during which students could listen to stories from aging members of the Gullah-Geechee population and in turn teach them skills such as using email.
Other focuses will be public policy and tourism, said Gerald.
“If you go to any welcome center coming into South Carolina that has brochures and marketing stuff related to South Carolina, I would imagine 80 percent of them have a Sweetgrass basket on them,” she said. “So when people come allured into the state with the offer of a culture that is unique, people come. But are the Gullah-Geechee getting any economic benefit from it?”
In most cases when I go speak, people will say ‘Oh, you don’t look Gullah’ because they’re looking for the head rags, the apron, the outfit. Veronica Davis Gerald, The Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies director
Gerald said she’s heard from students expressing interest in the program from as far away as Oklahoma, but she wants the institute to focus on CCU students during its formative years.
Right now, students at CCU can get minor in African diaspora studies, but Gerald hopes a degree in Gullah-Geechee studies will be available in four or five years.
Public policy and social justice
Kelly Shelton, a senior political science and philosophy major with a focus on sustainability is one of the students interning with the program in 2017.
“Veronica Gerald knew of my interest in the Gullah-Geechee and she actually asked me to be a part of the program,” said Shelton. “And I had shown her so much interest in asking about her culture and interviewing constituents of hers in the culture so she knew of my passion for the Gullah-Geechee.”
My role in institute will be working on social justice issues, listening to people’s stories, letting their voices be heard, translating that into policies to protect them, their land their ways of life, fishing, their natural resources. Kelly Shelton, CCU student
Shelton’s father was a commercial fisherman and she grew up in Georgetown, Murrells Inlet and Pawleys Island, which she said gave her an appreciation for the culture. Her focus in the institute will focus on policy and social justice.
“We’re looking to help that community, to give a voice to their community in the state legislature, to implement policy to protect their land loss,” said Shelton, referring to recent events in Plantersville, S.C., where residents who didn’t pay a $250 fee for a new sewer system faced the loss of their homes at auction.
“My role in institute will be working on social justice issues, listening to people’s stories, letting their voices be heard, translating that into policies to protect them, their land their way of life, their natural resources,” she said.
A living culture
One objective of the institute will be making the public aware that the Gullah-Geechee culture is still active.
“It is alive and kicking,” said Gerald. “We have been depicted as a kind of historic relic. In most cases when I go speak, people will say ‘Oh, you don’t look Gullah’ because they’re looking for the head rags, the apron, the outfit. In that existence, my character is not there. Michelle Obama’s character is not there, Clarence Thomas’ character is not there because we are not historic relics but we are Gullah-Geechee.”
The 8.2-million-acre Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, which extends from Wilmington, N.C. to Jacksonville, Fla., is the only one of 49 national heritage areas that focuses on an existing population.
“This is a living culture,” said Gerald. “We’re still moving and living and breathing and surviving. We still have issues. What we need is people to praise our history and our accomplishments... But we now have other things going on.”
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian
Community & History News
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