‘Tis the season to be jolly, so why is it that the days leading up to Christmas are often times more stressful than merry?
You’ve given your boss a “#1 Boss Award” mug two years in a row, your spouse has everything and the thought of shopping for your in-laws actually sends a shiver of terror down your spine.
We understand your holiday shopping can be agonizing, so that’s why this year we’ve done all the work for you! The Gift Shop at Robert Mills has the perfect items for everyone on your list. Yes, even for your in-laws.
1. For Dad
Palmetto Neckties + Cufflinks
Most dads could use a style upgrade. This Christmas, Palmetto neckties and cufflinks will be the perfect update to Dad’s wardrobe!
2. For Mom
State Shaped Tray with Palmetto Wine Glasses
Mom deserves to relax, so give her a reason to unwind with a bottle of wine. Place Mom’s favorite wine on our woven South Carolina shaped tray, add our Palmetto wine glasses and get Mom relaxing in style!
Palmetto and Gamecock Jewelry
Our #1 rule for shopping for Mom? Jewelry is always a good idea. Choose from our Gamecock and Palmetto necklaces, bracelets and earrings (or all three!) and give Mom a gift that’s at the top of her list.
3. For the In-Laws
Palmetto Fabric Basket Filled with Delicious Southern Treats
We’ve created the perfect gift to please even the pickiest in-laws. Fill one of our gorgeous, woven Palmetto baskets with irresistible treats, like Braswell preserves, Taste of the South candied pecans and Olde Colony Bakery cookies. With this gift, you’ll keep your in-laws (and their stomachs!) happy.
4. For Your Boss
Palmetto Wine and Cocktail Glasses
Yes, even your boss likes to have fun. Give your boss the gift of a good time with Palmetto wine and cocktail glasses!
5. For the History Buff
Remembering Columbia by John Sherrer
Remembering Columbia explores South Carolina’s capital city from its early years through the mid-20th century. This intriguing story will be the perfect piece for any history buff’s coffee table.
6. For the Foodie
Palmetto Farms Aromatic Rice and Stone Ground Grits + One Big Table Cookbook
Give your foodie friend new cooking inspiration with our One Big Table cookbook and supply local, top quality ingredients with Palmetto Farms Aromatic Rice and Stone Ground Grits… The recipe possibilities are endless!
7. For the Local Lover
Handmade Cork or Cotton Wreaths
Update your local lover’s holiday wreath this season with a one-of-a-kind, handmade cork or cotton wreath. These wreaths are made locally and are a unique twist on traditional holiday decor.
Essentially Southern Handmade Soaps
Made in Charleston, Essentially Southern soaps offer a wide variety of scents, and these handmade soaps are the perfect item to help you create a “Spa Night” gift basket for your local lover!
8. For the Kids
Santa’s Holiday Letter Kit
Create an unforgettable Christmas for your little one with Santa’s Holiday Letter Kit. Featuring a letter to and from Santa, a magic key that allows Santa to deliver presents to your home and a coloring book, this kit is full of Christmas magic!
Stop by the Gift Shop at Robert Mills and receive 20% off your purchase and a $25 gift card with any purchase of $25 or more now through December 24! And be sure to check out all the other #HistoricHoliday activities we have at Historic Columbia during the season!
Happy Holidays from all of us at Historic Columbia!
In 2006, friends of Historic Columbia, Kelly and Keith Powell, lost their first newborn child, Henry Michael Powell. The couple’s tremendous loss inspired them to imagine a place of joy to help them remember the happiness their son brought them during his brief life. Thus, the idea for a memorial and children’s garden at the Hampton-Preston Mansion was born.
In partnership with Historic Columbia, the Powells launched plans for the Henry Michael Powell Memorial and Children’s Garden in 2010. The Powells’ purpose for the garden was twofold; they not only wanted to establish a creative space but also a place that allowed for quiet reflection.
Six years later, the Powell’s idea is in full bloom.
On Sunday, Oct. 16, Historic Columbia hosted a special reception, bringing families and supporters together, to celebrate the completion of the first phase of the garden rehabilitation at the Hampton-Preston Mansion.
The occasion marked an important milestone – the ribbon cutting of a new gazebo funded by Joe and Patricia Powell, which is the main focal point of the Henry Michael Powell Memorial and Children’s Garden.
The Powells wanted Henry’s siblings to have a place to visit that was established as a celebration of their brother’s life and to see first-hand how his life had inspired the creation of a place filled with laughter and learning.
The Powells’ vision has come to life.
As a result of a major transformation project, the first phase of the Hampton-Preston Mansion garden rehabilitation is complete with a stunning welcome gate and garden, a replica of the Hiram Powers Fountain and now, a Children’s Garden featuring an incredible gazebo mimicking the arches and curves of nearby live oak trees.
The Powells regularly visit the gardens with their daughters, Annalise and Isabel, and they, along with Historic Columbia, invite you to also explore the gardens to experience their beauty and remember the life of Henry Michael Powell.
This short video played at the dedication ceremony.
Please CLICK HERE for more images from the dedication ceremony.
The gardens at the Hampton-Preston Mansion were made possible by the generosity of the Powell Family, as well as valued Historic Columbia Donors. The gardens are maintained by Historic Columbia. In total, Historic Columbia’s properties include more than 14 acres of landscapes, featuring gardens that range from an expansive park-like setting with an elaborate formal garden to a traditional 19th-century swept yard. Historic Columbia’s gardens are historically informed and make up the largest public green space in Columbia. The gardens are a free and open to the public.
On September 25, Historic Columbia is pleased to host a members’ only reception for Dick Lehr at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Lehr’s book, The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War, is an outstanding counter-history of the reaction and impact of one of early cinema’s most famous films.
Attendees will be invited to tour the Wilson Home to better understand the connection between the 28th president and the incendiary film. The author will sign books, which will be available for purchase on site. Please contact email@example.com to confirm your attendance.
In addition to the September 25 event, Historic Columbia and the History Center at USC are co-sponsoring a public talk on the book, with film clips from The Birth of a Nation, at the Nickelodeon Theater on September 26 at 7 p.m. This is a free event, but there is limited seating and reservations are required.
Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of a Nation
As a college professor, Woodrow Wilson wrote, “Reconstruction is still a revolutionary matter…..those who delve into it find it like a banked fire.” Reconstruction in South Carolina ended with the election of Wade Hampton as governor in 1876, just two years after Wilson, then known as Tommy, left his family home here in Columbia. Wilson still felt the heat of that “banked fire” in the White House, almost 40 years later. The first sitting president to view films in the White House, in 1915 Wilson viewed The Birth of a Nation, an epic silent film based on a book written by one of his college acquaintances. The Birth of a Nation, set in South Carolina with some scenes in Wilson’s former hometown of Columbia, offered a racist interpretation of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
While watching The Birth of a Nation, would Wilson have recalled his years in Columbia? What he thought of the film he did not say, leaving historians to interpret the event in a variety of ways. However, by his viewing it the movie’s producers capitalized on the White House connection, claiming the president endorsed it.
Today, the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, operated by Historic Columbia, is a physical connection to Reconstruction and a window into how this era has been represented historically and how it is remembered to today. It also allows 21st century visitors to ask important questions about how Reconstruction shaped a boy who would be president. Visit historiccolumbia.org for information on taking a house tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home.
More on Mr. Lehr’s book The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and Crusading Editor Reignited America’s Civil War
In 1915, two men-one a journalist agitator, the other a technically brilliant filmmaker-incited a public confrontation that roiled America, pitting black against white, Hollywood against Boston, and free speech against civil rights. William Monroe Trotter and D. W. Griffith were fighting over a film that dramatized the Civil War and Reconstruction in a post-Confederate South. Almost fifty years earlier, Monroe’s father, James, was a sergeant in an all-black Union regiment that marched into Charleston, South Carolina, just as the Kentucky cavalry-including “Roaring Jake” Griffith, D. W.’s father-fled for their lives. Griffith’s film, The Birth of a Nation, included actors in blackface, heroic portraits of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and a depiction of Lincoln’s assassination. Freed slaves were portrayed as villainous, vengeful, slovenly, and dangerous to the sanctity of American values. It was tremendously successful, eventually seen by 25 million Americans. But violent protests against the film flared up across the country.
Monroe Trotter’s titanic crusade to have the film censored became a blueprint for dissent during the 1950s and 1960s. This is the fiery story of a revolutionary moment for mass media and the nascent civil rights movement, and the men clashing over the cultural and political soul of a still-young America standing at the cusp of its greatest days.
“D. W. Griffiths’ 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, may have been billed as the ‘Most Wonderful Motion Picture Ever,’ but to African Americans of the Jim Crow era, it was a grotesque reminder of how invisible their true lives-their history and their dreams-were across the color line. Speaking out against the white-hooded nostalgia the film inflamed, William Monroe Trotter, Harvard’s first black Phi Beta Kappa graduate and a leading newspaper editor, revived a protest tradition that would set the stage for the civil rights movement to follow. Distinguished journalist Dick Lehr’s account of this racial debate is not only enthralling to read; it reminds us of the singular importance of ‘the birth of’ Monroe Trotter.”
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
CLICK HERE to become a member of Historic Columbia and enjoy the opportunity to attend events like these in the future!
This Friday, the largest water balloon battle in Columbia will take place…with a historic twist at the Robert Mills House and Gardens. From the Revolutionary War, where more battles were fought in South Carolina than in any other state, to today’s modern conflicts, the list of important historical events is long. Countless factors have affected the tactics soldiers use in battle since our nation’s founding. Historic Columbia has organized a unique event to illustrate how battlefield tactics have changed over time.
Image Courtesy of The State Newspaper
Program participants will take part in three battles representing different time periods, each with an important connection to South Carolina. The “soldiers” will be led into battle by active-duty drill sergeants who will provide rudimentary training on each era’s tactics before leading teams into battle. For the Revolutionary War, individuals learn how muskets used during this time were inaccurate and slow to reload. This caused opponents to move closer to one another before shooting and the tactics often involved firing en masse for a better chance of hitting the enemy. Participants will line up shoulder to shoulder and may only throw their limited number of water balloons when the drill sergeant gives the order to fire.
We then fast forward to World War I, an important moment in Columbia’s history as Camp Jackson (now Fort Jackson) was founded during this war. For this battle, one team will go “over the top” and move across an open area on the grounds to attack another team that is entrenched behind hedges. The defending team will have many more water balloons than the attacking team. People will learn how machine guns, trenches and other technology gave defense a decisive advantage for most of the war. This is what led to the static trench warfare on the Western Front that gives us the familiar images we associate with this conflict.
The third and final battle to be fought represents the Vietnam-era and the elimination of clear battle lines that defined control of territory. In this battle, buckets filled with water balloons will be placed around the grounds and teams must fight for control of the “supply” points. The battle will likely devolve from well-planned strategies to small groups fighting for control of one or two buckets.
Books, lectures, maps and museum exhibits certainly provide more in-depth information about warfare in the past, but this event will draw participants who may not normally visit museums or consider themselves history buffs. Our goal for this event is to whet the appetite for folks who have a diverse range of education and careers to go out on their own and to learn more about the past. Over 1,700 water balloons will fly through the sky in three battles designed to educate the public on fighting techniques. Without making light of the real life experiences of soldiers in the past, this event engages the public in an active, outdoor educational setting during the famously hot summer days in Columbia.
CLICK HERE to find out more information and to register for this epic Happy Hour Water Balloon Battle. The 2016-2017 Happy Hour Series is generously sponsored by Land Bank Lofts.
At the August 11 meeting of Columbia’s Design/Development Review Commission meeting, Historic Columbia expressed concerns regarding plans for a 15-story housing tower adjacent to the main branch of the Richland Library. HC’s interest in this project is the impact that the new construction will have on the historic building at 1401 Assembly Street.
This building is one of a small number that remain as representatives of what was once Columbia’s thriving black business district. Its orientation on the corner lot served as a unique transition from Assembly to Washington streets. In 1916 it housed the Regal Drug Store – owned and operated by Columbian Charles Johnson; by 1919 the law office for Nathaniel J. Frederick, who was the principal of Howard School, editor of the independent AA newspaper the Southern indicator and the first AA lawyer admitted to the SC state bar occupied its second story; and it the 1980s the building served as a center for social and political discourse when it housed Stroy’s Barbershop.
The building has an important story to tell and it needs to be protected from demolition to do so. While HC prefers that the building remain in its current location in order to retain the original context, without landmark designation this is a request D/DRC is unwilling to consider as part of the project review.
As a result Historic Columbia has been engaged in productive conversation to work with Clayco – the project developer, Richland Library and the City to relocate the building to a lot at the NW corner of Park and Washington streets. While this removes the building from the original location it does retain the context within the Black Business District, placing it among the few remaining structures.
Take a piece of the Gardening Symposium home with you! Use what you’ve learned at the Gardening Symposium by caring for a plant grown at the Historic Columbia gardens. Four different plants will be available for purchase at the 2016 Gardening Symposium: Chrysanthemum ‘Cathy’s Rust’ ($5), Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ ($10), Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’ ($10), and Hemerocallis ‘Historic Columbia’ ($15). These plants will appeal to anyone and everyone with their variety of looks and behaviors.
Chrysanthemum ‘Cathy’s Rust’
For those of you who love a flourishing fall garden, the Chrysanthemum ‘Cathy’s Rust’ is the plant for you. Garden mums are the unsung heroes of the fall garden. They are lush and bring eye-catching color to your garden. In late September or October, ‘Cathy’s Rust’ will produce loads of dark rust colored blooms with contrasting golden centers. These colors complement the changing leaves and colors of fall perfectly. Unlike the mass-produced greenhouse mums sold by big box stores, heirlooms mums will naturalize easily in most gardens. We recommend cutting back ‘Cathy’s Rust’ by at least one half in mid-summer for a more upright fall show.
Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’
If you’re a person that enjoys watching the evolution of plants throughout the seasons, you’ll love the Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi.’ Brugmansia is also known as “angel’s trumpet” for their golden, bell-like blossoms. This tropical-looking plant is a perennial South American member of the tomato family. These herbaceous stunners will die down to the ground in our winters, only to re-emerge in April. Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’ will grow to a height of five to six feet by August and begin to produce loads of pendant, fragrant, light orange flowers over a foot long!
Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’
For those that enjoy the beauty of evergreen, the Mangave ‘Macho Mocha’ is the perfect addition to your garden. This nearly indestructible perennial sports large garnet spots on otherwise blueish-green succulent leaves. Mangaves are the result of an intergeneric cross between the related genera Agave and Manfreda. The result is stunning foliage and improved hardiness. Be sure to provide excellent drainage for maximum performance.
Hemerocallis ‘Historic Columbia’
If you want your garden filled with beautiful flowers, consider the Hemerocallis ‘Historic Columbia.’ Day lilies are known and bred for their beautiful flowers. They are also one of the most dependable performers in the Southern garden, tolerating harsher conditions than many other perennials. ‘Historic Columbia’ displays light yellow flowers with an extended bloom period. ‘Historic Columbia’ was a seedling found and named by Robert Kennedy (of Camden) in 1981. (Photo of similar variety.)
In addition to these plants propagated from the Historic Columbia gardens, the symposium will also feature products from Roses Unlimited, Rodger’s Heirlooms, Heathwood Hall, Paradise Plants Plus, and Mill Creek Greenhouses. A heirloom seed swap will take place during and after the workshops and will include seeds from Seed Saver’s Exchange, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants. The Gift Shop at Robert Mills will offer books by the presenters as well as unique gardening items, including pressed herbarium specimens collected from Historic Columbia gardens and prepared at USC’s A.C. Moore Herbarium.
Guest blog by 2016 Garden Symposium keynote speaker, Dr. David Shields.
When Lief Erickson made landfall on the Western Hemisphere it was so overrun with Native grapes he called the country Vinland. When colonists from Spain, France, and England tried to transport their home grapes—the Vitis vinefera—they planted them in a territory occupied by a host of Native grapes, all of them loathe to surrender land to interlopers. The pathogens, that had developed to insure that only the strongest strains of Natives survived, attacked the cabernets, the pinot noirs, the reislings, and the Muscats. For two hundred years people attempted to plant French, German, and Italian grapes in American soil, and for 200 years they died. Black rot, brown rot, mildew, Phylloxera, Pierce’s disease would take them all in a year or two. Until that moment just after the turn of the 19th century when vignerons decided to cross a resistant Native variety with a tasty European variety to create a hybrid.
Nicholas Herbemont, a native of the Champagne in France and the first instructor of French in the College of South Carolina, would be the first to embrace hybrid grapes in the creation of fine wine. He would only be driven to this conclusion after witnessing over 120 Vitis vinefera varieties that he had imported in 1811 wither and die in the Carolina sun. The hybrid grape that he embraced was a cross between a Native borquiniana and a European vinefera, and had the refined flavor of the latter and the disease resistance of the Native. It was a fat brown grape, succulent and saccharine, that reminded him of the Sercial Madeira grape. Georgians called it the Warren grape. But because Nicholas Herbemont created the first annually available fine quality vintage wine from it in the 1820s, it came to be called after him.
Herbemont was one of the six grapes upon which the American grape industry was founded—the others were the Catawba, the Concord, the Norton, the Delaware, and the Isabella—none of them straight vineferas. Texas and Missouri became major centers of Herbemont wine production until the early 1870s when nearly every Herbemont grape vine in the United States was dug up and shipped to Europe, because it resisted the depredations of the phylloxera mite. The Herbemont grape saved the French noble vintages, but did so at the sacrifice of its central place in the ranks of American wine. A fine table grape and a historic wine grape, Herbemont is the signature grape of Southern viticulture. It is more classic and refined in taste than the Muscadine, more rich than later hybrids such as the Chambourcin, and more versatile than the Catawba or the Isabella. Historically is was made into a fortified Madeira-like wine, a light white wine, and a rose. It was often paired at meals with another local hybrid of the summer grape (Vitis vinefera) and a Vitis vinefera named the Lenoir. In Texas the pairing of these grapes in vineyards remains to the present day.
[Historic Columbia is proud to announce the homecoming of the Herbemont! HC Horticulturist Keith Mearns, pictured here, is preparing to propagate the historic grape in our gardens. Special thanks to Justin Scheiner at Texas A&M for sending us cuttings.]
To learn more about horticulture and the history of Southern gardens, join us April 8 & 9 for Historic Columbia’s2016 Gardening Symposium “Redefining the Southern Garden: Past, Present & Future.” Early registration for this event ends March 25th so please Register Today!
CLICK HERE to view more photos of the Herbemont at HC!
One way that Historic Columbia actively engages in local preservation efforts is through our Historic Easement Program. A preservation easement is a legal agreement between the owner of a historic property and a qualified preservation organization, whereby the owner gives up certain development rights in exchange for certain financial benefits. Historic Columbia holds preservation façade easements on several important historic buildings in downtown Columbia, including the Arcade Mall and the Habenicht Building (among others) on Main Street, the First National Bank on Washington Street, and the Powell Furniture Building on Sumter Street.
Most historic property owners that enter into a covenant do so because they have an appreciation for the historical or cultural significance of that building or landscape, but they also know that donating an easement to a charitable organization can help them realize a benefit on their Federal income tax, and they may also seek to use the donation as a platform for taking advantage of Federal Historic Rehabilitation Tax Incentives. These benefits have been key to realizing many of the renovation and restoration projects along the Main Street corridor and elsewhere throughout Columbia.
We’ve collected some more of the Main Street easement photographs here.
Historic Columbia’s acceptance of an easement means that it agrees to “manage and enforce, [the] preservation and conservation easement in gross and in perpetuity.” To that end, Historic Columbia staff conducts annual inspections of the properties and — should the owners decide to perform exterior improvements — passes judgment on exterior design and renovation decisions. Historic Columbia’s easement portfolio continues to grow as we continue to create closer and better relationships within the development community.
It is important to point out that there is a much larger benefit involved in the conservation easement — that is, the benefit to the general public. The idea is that, a covenanted property, be it a sharecropper shack in rural South Carolina or Yosemite National Park, is worth protecting for everyone, because it is the kind of place from which “the general public will yield a significant public benefit.”
Following the national media coverage of the controversy surrounding Woodrow Wilson’s legacy, Rodney Welch recently visited the Woodrow Wilson Family Home and spoke with Historic Columbia staff about how this unique museum addresses these dynamic and difficult conversations. This article originally appeared in the December 23, 2015 issue of Free Times.
As U.S. Reconsiders Woodrow Wilson, Columbia Leads the Way
Nationally and locally, Woodrow Wilson’s past has been catching up to him.
Last month, students at Wilson’s alma mater, Princeton University, staged a sit-in at the president’s office and demanded Wilson’s name be removed from all campus buildings.
Here in Columbia, the divided legacy of the 28th president has been a topic of conversation ever since the newly renovated Woodrow Wilson Family Home at 1705 Hampton St. reopened in February of 2014.
Although long known as a champion of liberal reform who led the country during World War I, Wilson was also the president who re-introduced segregation into federal offices in Washington, D.C., treated black leaders with contempt, and screened D.W. Griffith’s racist epic The Birth of a Nation in the White House.
Far from avoiding the issue of Wilson’s racial views, exhibits in Columbia’s Woodrow Wilson Family Home tackle them upfront, partly because it’s unavoidable. This is the home where Wilson lived from 1870 to 1874, from the ages of 14 to 18, when a defeated South was still licking its wounds.
“One of the key things we want to do here is we want to talk about Reconstruction,” says John Sherrer, cultural resources director at Historic Columbia, which manages the home. “We want to be able to create the scenario of ‘This is Columbia and this is South Carolina after the Civil War.’”
For Jennifer Taylor, who wrote the docent script and is currently writing her Ph.D. thesis on the home, the willingness of the museum staff to approach sensitive topics makes it rare.
“The way that they’re talking about race and political power, those are important subjects that aren’t generally covered in these spaces,” she says.
“I think we actually are unique among the Wilson sites in the way that we interpret this Wilson house,” says Historic Columbia Executive Director Robin Waites.
The Columbia home is one of four Wilson museums in the country. There’s also the presidential library in Staunton, Virginia, a boyhood home in Augusta — where the family lived before moving to Columbia — and the retirement home in Washington, D.C.
“Looking at communications from folks in D.C. and folks in Augusta, they certainly now are saying that Wilson was a complex guy, but it’s not something that they talk about necessarily at the historic sites, whereas we do that at this site,” Waites says. “So I’m not sure that there is, honestly, the expectation out there that a house that deals with Wilson would do this.”
Throughout the house, displays contrast Wilson’s placid domestic world with the political corruption and terrorism going on in the streets of Columbia.
In video presentations, Wilson is assessed by speakers as diverse as biographer A. Scott Berg and hop-hop artist DJ Spooky.
Historic Columbia co-hosted a screening of the latter’s film Rebirth of a Nation — a remixed, rescored and re-narrated version which examines Griffith’s compositional techniques and ideology — in January at the Nickelodeon Theatre.
“What we try to do here is look at the myths surrounding Reconstruction and break those down and tease those apart and put human faces on a lot of the events,” says Fielding Freed, Director of Historic House Museums with Historic Columbia. “As our guests go around the house, they’re starting to get a real idea that this was about human beings really renegotiating the majority of what was taken for granted for so many years and so [much] American life and that was slavery, and that’s no longer part of the social fabric of the country.”
Jasper Lawson of Massachusetts, who grew up in Columbia and graduated from the University of South Carolina, stopped by the home during a visit to his 50th reunion at C.A. Johnson High School.
“It’s a lot more informative than when I was a 14-year-old teenager popping in here,” he said. “Now I say, well, Wilson is not an exceptional president in terms of his racial views or anything like that. He’s no exception.”
For Lawson’s partner, Jay Landers, Wilson’s views were likely a matter of his environment.
“How you’re brought up is how you’re brought up,” he said. “He’s no different. We will be criticized in 20 or 30 years for what we’re doing now.”
He didn’t have to look far for a contemporary example.
“We experience that all the time, being an interracial married couple,” he said. “We’ve been married for 11 years, coming from Massachusetts, which was the first one with same sex marriage — we get to experience it. And there are places in today’s world where we won’t go right now.”
[The following was written by our Executive Director, Robin Waites, and published in The State on December 14, 2015 as an Opinion Extra. Richland and Lexington County residents are invited to take a guided tour of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home for only $1 on Sunday, Dec. 20.]
Recent student protests at Princeton regarding President Woodrow Wilson may seem far removed from Columbia, but Wilson’s views on race are part of our everyday conversations at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Since reopening the historic site in February 2014, Richland County and Historic Columbia have operated the museum as a place that explores the Reconstruction era, considers its impact on Wilson, and promotes open dialogue on all aspects of Wilson’s Presidency.
The Wilson’s moved to their home at the corner of Hampton and Henderson streets in 1871 when the future President was 14 years old. This was in the middle of the Reconstruction era, a tumultuous period between the conclusion of the Civil War and the beginning of legally sanctioned segregation across the South. Race, inextricably interwoven into politics and power, was central to the experience of Blacks and Whites in Columbia in 1871. Racial matters structured lives in ways codified by law and negotiated through generations-old social customs. It was within this context that a white, privileged southern teenager began to form his impressions of the world and grow intellectually.
Woodrow Wilson is considered a successful, two-term President, who led America to victory in the First World War. He is perhaps best known for laying the groundwork for the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations. He is often held out as one of America’s most effective Presidents. But, missing from the usual narrative on Wilson’s legacy is a discussion of his domestic policies, particularly those involving racial segregation.
Wilson campaigned in 1912 on a platform of racial inclusion, but went in the opposite direction once in office. His actions to re-segregate federal offices that had been at least partially integrated took racial reconciliation backwards. His association with public figures who championed legal segregation of the races sent a message to white and black alike that he eschewed policies that would bring about more equal treatment of blacks and whites.
The mindset behind these policies had its foundation within the very era in which Wilson grew into an adult in Columbia. Exhibits and guides at the Woodrow Wilson Family Home tackle these challenging issues and discuss the structural segregation in the post-Civil War era, as well as political terrorism carried out against blacks by the Red Shirts, and the apparent endorsement of Birth of a Nation in 1915 by then President Wilson. Discussion of these issues has long been avoided but needs to be addressed in today’s world if we are going to be honest in our assessment of history and how it has shaped the world we live in today.
As the country is engaged in dynamic and difficult conversations about race and specifically the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, Historic Columbia offers a unique environment to consider how this national leader’s experiences and opinions shaped his later actions. More broadly, in opening the door to discussion about our complex past, we all may thoughtfully shape our shared future.
Robin Waites is the Executive Director of Historic Columbia, which manages the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Waites oversaw the multi-year rehabilitation and re-interpretation of the site, which is the only museum of Reconstruction in the country.