The top questions tourists have when they walk into the Charleston Visitor Center involve food, tours and directions.
Tyesha Stanley knows the answers. It’s her job. She is a greeter at the center and former assistant box office manager at the Gaillard Auditorium, now under renovation.
She gets peppered with questions from people trying to find their way around the city.
A family stops by her desk and asks for directions to The Market. Stanley rattles off the answer with the ease of someone who has done it many times.
Food is always high on most tourists’ lists, Stanley said.
And Southern and soul food are especially sought after. Many come in and ask where they can find good soul food. Most have done their research or word of mouth, and know where they want to go. Martha Lou’s and Bertha’s are usually high on their lists. So are Dave’s and Hannibal’s.
Stanley said blacks and whites alike are looking for good soul food.
In terms of tours, what are African-Americans looking for when they come to Charleston?
Stanley said the major tours are always popular, but blacks and many whites also are looking for tours that speak to the black experience. Blacks want to learn more about their heritage.
A group of black women sitting at the center showed that to be true. They are Seventh-Day Adventists from the Southeast here for a women’s conference.
What specifically do they want to see?
Sandra Hawkins, a retired educator from Montgomery, Ala., said they were waiting to go on Gullah Tours because they wanted to see some black history sites and heritage.
However, since it’s their first time in Charleston, the women also wanted to see some natural and general history sites and some key points of the Old South. She said there are lots to do in Charleston and lots of interesting sites.
Another visitor center worker said they listen to whatever tourists want and “we do our best to accommodate them.”
She said they get lots of requests for two African-American bus tours: Gullah Tours by Alphonso Brown, which includes downtown sites, such as Philip Simmons’ home and blacksmith shop; and for Sites and Insights Tours by Al Miller, who specializes in touring the sea islands, including Angel Oak on Johns Island.
Maybe Miller will add the Progressive Club, which was marked Sunday as one of the Preservation Society’s “Civil Rights Era Sites.” Esau Jenkins founded the club in 1948 to provide civic education for island residents.
There are also African-American walking tours available.
My take: Charleston and the Lowcountry have a lot to offer, and we don’t have to be tourists to take advantage of them.
Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or firstname.lastname@example.org.