I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
-William Blake, “A Poison Tree”
“When the War is Over”: A series of public events dedicated to thinking about building Community After Periods of Slavery, Persecution, Genocide, or War.
In much the same way that trauma in an individual’s past causes psychological damage, communities that have experienced traumatic violence also bear psychological scars from that experience. Psychiatrists have for many years asserted the value of the “talking cure,” arguing that healing comes from addressing, not suppressing, the memory of the traumatic event. In the US military, for example, treatment of PTSD is generally informed by the work of psychiatrist Judith Herman, author of the now-classic 1992 study Trauma and Recovery. In the cases of traumatized communities, the tendency in recent years has also been to attempt “talking cures”; numerous countries have opted to establish truth commissions as a way to stabilize post-conflict situations. Hoping to avoid the potentially endless cycle of tit-for-tat vengeful “justice,” countries as diverse as Chile, Sierra Leone, and South Africa have used truth commissions to deal with their violent pasts not by repressing memories but by bringing them into the open.
Despite the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, the scars of slavery and of institutionalized racism in the United States are still present, manifesting themselves in a variety of ways, including continued systemic discrimination as well as individual acts of violence. In the latter case, the mass murder of nine of our fellow citizens while at prayer in the Mother Emanuel Church in June 2015 reminded us all that Charleston, our beautiful home city, is also a site of trauma, suffering from the suppressed memories of native genocide, two centuries of racialized slavery, and a century of legalized racial discrimination. Although contemporary historians have put the story of these traumas into print, the visible, material landscape still suppresses the trauma: public memorials and the demographics of urban space still render Native American and African American experience virtually invisible.
Elsewhere in the world, communities that have experienced similar trauma and racial, ethnic, or sectarian division have begun to address the effect of statues, monuments, and memorials honoring eminent historical figures whose ideologies and policies are out of step with contemporary assertions of universal human rights. In perpetuating a positive memory of leaders like Cecil Rhodes, for example, these memorials enshrine and set in stone attitudes we now consider to be anathema. Campaigns to remove statues honoring Rhodes from places of honor in South Africa and in his native England have led to wider campaigns for social justice, including equal access to education for all.
In the US, the last year has seen a wave of local initiatives to remove or modify statues and memorials honoring Civil War generals and politicians, as well as efforts to rename buildings named in honor of post-War politicians who advocated for and/or profited from racial segregation. These initiatives have in turn spawned renewed violence, notably in Charlottesville, Virginia last August. Here in Charleston, confusion still reigns over how to handle the memory of John C. Calhoun, whose statue towers above the city in Marion Square.
As an academic institution, dedicated to the notion that wisdom itself is liberty, we at the College of Charleston feel called upon to use our expertise in the humanities and social sciences to provide an intellectual framework to negotiate these contentious issues. “When the War Is Over: Memory, Division, and Healing” thus brings together in a loosely unified series, a collection of public lectures and forums that address historical trauma and the ways in which sites that have experienced such trauma have moved, or might move towards building sustainable, peaceful community. In broadening the discussion from Charleston and the US to include the Northern Irish “Troubles” and the Holocaust, the series aims to provide a discursive context within which a fundamental commitment to human rights governs policy decisions that lead toward peaceable coexistence, the eradication of racism and other forms of discrimination, and the prevention of genocide.
“Transforming Public History from Charleston to the Atlantic World” will be hosted by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program, and the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston on June 14-17, 2017. Conference planners are seeking proposals for workshops, roundtable discussions, panels, and individual papers from public history professionals, scholars, educators, librarians, archivists, and artists that address issues surrounding the interpretation, preservation, memorialization, commemoration, and public application of major themes in local, regional, and Atlantic World history.
SPECIAL FOCUS Based on the United Nation’s declaration of 2015-2024 as the International Decade for People of African Descent, and the conference location in Charleston, South Carolina, on the second anniversary of the tragic shooting at the Mother Emanuel Church, the conference will particularly highlight speakers and topics relevant to transforming practices of interpreting the history of slavery and its race and class legacies in Charleston and historically interconnected local, regional, and international sites.
ABOUT THE CONFERENCE THEME Starting in the fifteenth century, the Atlantic Ocean became a corridor of trade and migration—both voluntary and coerced—between Africa, Europe, and the Americas. In the centuries that followed, the violent encounters, power struggles, cultural exchanges, labor systems, and economic ties surrounding these trans-Atlantic connections became ever more complex and globally intertwined, producing distinctive race, class, and gender experiences and hierarchies throughout the Atlantic World and beyond. How have cultural heritage institutions, public historians, scholars, artists, activists, filmmakers, and educators in various international regions engaged with and depicted the diverse histories of the Atlantic World? How have these representations changed over time, and how will they continue to change in the twenty-first century?
The Penn Center hosted an inaugural Civil Rights Symposium in November to mark its 152th anniversary on St. Helena Island, just outside Beaufort, South Carolina. This symposium attracted veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, scholars, and community partners to the Penn Center’s storied campus of wooden structures and Spanish Moss-laden live oaks. Civil Rights activists such as Millicent Brown, Connie Curry, Jim Campbell, Myrtle Glascoe, Chuck McDew, Bob Moses, Cleveland Sellers, Hank Thomas, and many others gathered to celebrate and discuss the Penn Center’s history with Civil Rights in South Carolina. The symposium also addressed the continuous need to ensure that all Americans have access to quality education and equal citizenship.
A central question of the two-day event was how to make the history of the Civil Rights Movement struggle relevant to young people today. As an example, one panel discussed the upcoming collaborative digital exhibition, “Somebody Had to Do It:” A History of Desegregation in South Carolina. Dr. Millicent Brown and Dr. Jon Hale are partnering with the Avery Research Center and the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative (LDHI) to create an online exhibition that incorporates the stories of the primary actors of the movement to desegregate schools. This digital exhibition seeks to showcase experiences of the “first children” to desegregate schools through oral history videos as well as interactive maps and timelines to tell the history of desegregation in the students’ own words.
Drawing from personal experience, Dr. Brown spoke eloquently about the hopes as well as the unintended consequences that came with school desegregation. Brown noted those directly involved in desegregation “thought it would be important to get kids together, to expose them to the same information, and close the gap of achievement.” She as well as others had faith that transforming education would transform mindsets, communities, and ultimately the country. Yet, as a result of desegregation, many African-American schools shut down and many African-American teachers lost their positions in the community. Brown wants to honor those first children to desegregate schools while also placing their sacrifices into the proper, and complex historical context. Working with LDHI, Brown said that she and other first children are “so grateful for where the technology has taken us and for the ability to share with everyone our story, especially the young people.” Ciera Gordon, a graduate student at the College of Charleston helping to create the online exhibition, said, “watching [the oral history] videos, you can see how therapeutic the interview sessions were for people still dealing with their pent up stories.” Brown concluded, “The beauty of it is that it will be shared worldwide.” Look for the upcoming LDHI exhibition, “Somebody Had to Do It:” A History of Desegregation in South Carolina, in 2015.
Collecting archival documentation about the first students to desegregate schools is ongoing and you can submit information to Aaron Spelbring, email@example.com, Manager of Archival Services at the Avery Research Center.
Post by Harry Egner, College of Charleston
Graduate Assistant with the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative
Check out the Public Panel Session “What We (Should) Remember about the Civil War, and How and Why We (Should) Remember It.” This recorded session was part of the Conference Civil War – Global Conflict held on Saturday, March 5, 2011 at the College of Charleston. The panel was chaired by CLAW’s executive director, Vernon Burton.
Synagogues and Solidarity: Jewish Connections between the Caribbean and South Carolina
Arnold Hall, Jewish Studies Center, 96 Wentworth Street
Featured speakers include: Saskia Coenen-Snyder (University of South Carolina), Jennifer Henriques-Phillips (Jamaican artist/Charleston resident), Barry Stiefel (College of Charleston), Michael Stoner (University of West Indies)
In collaboration with the South Carolina Caribbean Culture and Heritage, Inc., this symposium is the opening event of the 2010 Charleston Carifest. This event will include a Masquerade Fete on Friday, June 18 and a Caribbean Carnival Street parade through downtown Charleston ending at Brittle Bank Park on Lockwood where a festival will be held that highlights cultural music, dance, and food. For more information on the festival, contact Lorna Shelton Beck at www.charlestoncarifest.com.