On Thursday, April 5, 2012, Joseph McGill, a field officer with the National Trust for Historic Preservation and a Civil War 54th Regiment re-enactor, offers an unprecedented program for Historic Columbia Foundation. In an effort to heighten awareness in and support of preserving sites associated with slavery McGill will spend the night in the circa-1830 kitchen dependency at the Seibels House as part of his Slave Dwelling Project. In McGill’s line of work historic preservation is applied to far more than architectural jewels or sites associated with prominent people. Historic preservation is the mechanism by which we prevent cultural amnesia and avoid losing aspects of our past that inform not only us today but generations of future citizens. McGill’s pending visit serves as a springboard into perhaps a broader appreciation for historically important sites whose full background specifically that involving the work of enslaved persons, often has gone un- or under appreciated.
Bondage, servitude, subjugation, the Peculiar Institution – regardless of its name – the institution of slavery remains a fiercely painful and poignant chapter in our nation’s history and nowhere more so than in the South, where it defined economic, social and political relationships for generations. Its centrality to our shared culture remains today, in memory and in the buildings that dot our landscape. Columbia, South Carolina certainly is no exception, where the institution of slavery laid the foundation for state-owned, municipal and private structures erected prior to the February 1865.
As the birthplace of secession, Columbia served as a political and military objective during the final stages of the Civil War, as Union forces captured the state capital. The subsequent destruction, caused by a series of fires, whose kindling damaged or destroyed approximately 1/3 of the city, took with it many unique examples of antebellum buildings erected by enslaved and free, white and black, Columbians alike. Further loss of buildings occurred during the course of the next 100 years, as wear and tear resulted in deteriorated structures easily replaced by citizens interested in embracing more modern homes, businesses and public buildings.
Often, historically or architecturally significant buildings that were saved received a stay of execution by the grace of their aesthetic potential or because they were simply located in areas where the price was right for their purchase and rehabilitation. In some instances, buildings never experienced a decline in their use; rather, they were part of large institutions with relatively steady financial streams that ensured their continued use. Rarely considered was the idea of how any of these properties revealed the experiences of former enslaved workers. In fact, in instances in which buildings were so obviously representative of slavery’s dark chapter in our shared past, owners, developers, administrators and leaders embraced their modification or destruction.
Well into the 21st century, Columbians and visitors to the state capital come in contact with slavery-associated sites on a day-to-day basis. In some cases, they actually seek out these sites in order to better understand a past that still resonates with contemporary life and whose impact will remain to be felt in the unforeseen future. Nationally, historic preservation has matured since the summer of 1966, when federal legislation established the National Historic Preservation Act that helped ensure the future of properties throughout the country. This trend toward expanding our view as to what matters historically fortunately has enhanced our contemporary capacity to use built culture and landscapes in vital ways that do not erase the contributions and memories of our forebears and how their shared experiences influenced who we are today.
Today, the complex story of this chapter in the University of South Carolina’s history can be explored in-depth through a recently-debuted website called Slavery at South Carolina College, 1801-1865, http://library.sc.edu/digital/slaveryscc/index.html.
About Preservation Matters:
Since its inception fifty years ago, Historic Columbia Foundation has remained true to its most basic principle – to save architecturally and culturally significant places by educating the public as to their importance. After preventing the destruction of the Robert Mills House the organization grew to further serve the capital city and Richland County as a preservation advocate championing the future or historic structures. Today, Historic Columbia Foundation models historic preservation and public education at the seven historic sites under its stewardship, through public outreach within downtown and county communities alike, and by allying itself with strategic partners dedicated to improving the quality of life for contemporary and future citizens. What follows are stories behind Historic Columbia Foundation’s evolution over five decades into a leader in historic preservation and education.
Ways to Get Involved:
1. Become a member of Historic Columbia Foundation. For as little as $35 (individual), your membership cost helps Historic Columbia Foundation in our local preservation and education efforts. Learn more…
2. Visit our historic house museums and gardens, including the Mann-Simons Site, Hampton-Preston Mansion, Seibels Garden, Robert Mills House & Garden, Woodrow Wilson Family Home (open the first Tuesday of the month for hard hat tours). Learn more…
3. Donate to Historic Columbia Foundation in honor of our 50th Anniversary. In an effort to save the Robert Mills House from demolition 265 visionary individuals, families and businesses each contributed $1,000 (equivalent to a $7,341 gift in 2011!) to Historic Columbia Foundation between 1961 and 1964. As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Historic Columbia Foundation, our Board of Trustees invites you to continue the legacy of the 265 founding leaders by being among the first 265 donors to make a contribution to our 2011 – 2012 Anniversary Campaign. Your gift may serve as a memorial or honorarium and may be directed to benefit our special projects, endowment or general operation fund as noticed in 50th Anniversary donation form here.
4. Become a fan of Historic Columbia Foundation and Preservation Matters on Facebook. (Facebook.com/HistoricColumbia and Facebook.com/PreservationMatters) and/or follow us on Twitter (@histcolumbia). Your likes, comments and retweets help us spread the word about our organization.
5. Volunteer for Historic Columbia Foundation. By volunteering for Historic Columbia Foundation, you meet new people, visit historic sites, and discover the culture and lifestyles of South Carolina’s capital city and Richland County. Spend as little as six hours per month, or volunteer each week with us fulfilling our mission to nurture, support, and protect the historical and cultural heritage of Columbia and its environs through programs of advocacy, education, and preservation. Learn more about becoming a volunteer (and the many volunteer benefits) here.
6. Spread the word about our 50th Anniversary by posting a link to this blog post on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and/or your website. Direct link is http://historiccolumbia.org/blog/preservation-matters-columbia-south-carolina-historic-sites-associated-with-the-legacy-of-slavery/. Shortened title with link for Twitter is “@ColumbiaSC historic sites associated with the legacy of slavery via @histcolumbia: http://bit.ly/GC5UKJ“
7. Encourage your employer to support Historic Columbia Foundation.Much like the 1,000 visionary donors in 1961, sustaining the efforts of Historic Columbia Foundation for the next 50 years will require donations not only from individuals and families, but also from local businesses. You can learn more about our business partners here. Contact Wendi Spratt in our development office at 803.252.7742 ext. 12 or email@example.com.