Since 1959, some of the city’s most lovely and noteworthy private residences have been chosen by the Preservation Society of Charleston for historic markers. They bear names of wealthy homeowners like Vanderhorst, Prioleau, Lamboll and Brewton.
This year, the Preservation Society has chosen six sites that tell a different but complementary story about Charleston’s past. They are sites of important events in the local march toward civil rights.
The Cigar Factory at the corner of East Bay and Columbus streets was the site of a 1944 strike by African-American female workers. The Progressive Club on River Road on Johns Island was founded in 1948 by Esau Jenkins to help Sea Island blacks get better jobs and voting rights. The Kress Building on King Street was the site of a demonstration over Jim Crow laws.
Then there is C.A. Brown High School, now Trident Technical College’s Palmer Campus, which was founded in 1962 to stave off public school integration. James Simons Elementary at King and Moultrie streets is a school where segregation ended in 1963. And the Medical University of South Carolina was the site of a 1969 strike by black hospital workers.
The purpose of the historic marker program is to educate people about history and architecture. Certainly the civil rights movement changed the course of history in Charleston, as it did nationwide. And certainly, remembering the key roles these sites played in that movement will be inspiring and edifying.
Marking the sites also will help Charleston, a premier tourist destination, do more to recognize the historical significance of the black community in the city’s development. While there are now tour guides whose focus is local black history, and some museums have rewritten their scripts to represent better the past, black and white, the Preservation Society’s historical markers will broaden that worthy effort.
And as the sites are scattered beyond the traditional historic section of the city, the markers will bring the story to a wider group of people and will be a source of pride for those who played a role in a movement that benefited all.
Beyond those six receiving markers, the Preservation Society put four sites that reflect local black culture on its list of seven places to save:
Charleston’s “sweet shops,” small commercial buildings mostly in residential areas; the Lewis Christian Union Cemetery, founded in the 19th century by a black burial society; the historic 11th Ward, an early 20th century neighborhood along the eastern edge of Interstate 26; and the United Order of Tents building in Cannonborough, owned by a society of black women who help people in need.
Like the civil rights sites, they are an essential part of Charleston’s story. Each deserves the attention, and honor, the Preservation Society has shown it.