USC unveils 2 monuments honoring slaves who built campus

by | December 6, 2017 1:11 am

Last Updated: December 5, 2017 at 11:13 pm

COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina unveiled two prominent plaques on campus Tuesday recognizing the role of slave labor in the development of the college.

An overflow crowd of around 200 packed in to Rutledge Chapel on campus for a ceremony celebrating the markers as top university officials touted the plaques as a demonstration of ongoing efforts to look back critically at the history of the state and the campus.

“We are here as students, as teachers, as colleagues, as neighbors, united in desire and united in need to give far belated thanks and recognition to those persons who toiled during the foundation of the college and during its first 64 years,” university President Harris Pastides said.

One plaque is placed at the top of the Horseshoe, in the heart of campus, highlighting the “vital contributions made by enslaved people” in constructing the original South Carolina College, first established in 1801.

Another sits outside the president’s house and honors the last remaining kitchen and slave quarters still standing, a tangible link to the work of slaves.

The plaque also names several of the enslaved workers who could be identified in archival records but only by first names: Abraham, Amanda, Anna, Anthony, Charles, Henry, Jack, Jim, Joe, Lucy, Ml., Peter, Sancho and his wife, Simon, Toby and Tom.

The university’s trustees voted in April to erect the markers, in part a response to student protests in 2015 that bemoaned the lack of emphasis on diversity on campus. One of the several demands from the protest group — known as USC 2020 Vision — was acknowledgement of the history of slave labor at the university.

Other recent moves to better recognize black history at the university include a garden next to USC’s administration building honoring the school’s desegregation in 1963, and a planned statue of Richard T. Greener, the university’s first black professor.

“Today, the people we come to thank and recognize are so long gone and were so abused, it may be too little too late,” Pastides said. “But still, we must try, and we must do it together.”

The ceremony also featured a dance routine and remarks from Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine, who said the plaques would help educate not just students but also visitors who come through South Carolina’s capital city.

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, was originally scheduled to speak at the ceremony but changes in the congressional schedule kept him in Washington. In Clyburn’s place, prominent civil rights history professor Bobby Donaldson, a descendant of slaves from Barnwell County, preached the importance of confronting the wrongs of previous generations.

While Donaldson described the recognition of the university’s connection to slavery as “long overdue,” he said USC “should be applauded for this important step forward.”


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