In 1961 the Ansley Hall Mansion, the Robert Mills-designed residence at 1616 Blanding Street, was under threat of demolition. The call to preserve this landmark building turned into a rallying cry that led to the formation of Historic Columbia Foundation. When we give tours of the property, known today as the Robert Mills House & Gardens, visitors are astounded that this regal, 1820s building was targeted for demolition. At the time, the potential for new development on this four-acre lot blinded some to the significance of the existing building, which is now a major draw for tourists and a defining feature of local architectural and cultural history. Unfortunately, many of our character-defining places have not been granted the same reprieve.
Before the adoption of the National Preservation Act in 1966 and subsequent establishment of the local Landmarks Commission (today’s Design Development Review Commission) the demolition of significant buildings went unregulated. Although review guidelines have been in place for more than 50 years, we still experience the loss, particularly of those structures that may not be perceived as mainstream historic sites. Over the last decade some of the unique buildings lost in this community include the Richland County Jail (SW corner of Hampton and Lincoln streets, George Elmore’s 5&10 Store (2317 Gervais Street), the Susannah Apartments (NE corner of Hampton and Bull streets), the Abbott Cigar Building (1300 Main Street) and several early 1900s residences along Devine Street. While perhaps not as iconic as the Robert Mills House, each of these sites represented a time period, building style and/or historic event and provided context to our fast-changing built environment.
Just last week we watched an 100-year-old building on a central commercial corridor fall to the wrecking ball. The structure at 1401 Assembly (NW corner of Washington and Assembly streets) stood at the entry point to the once-teeming Black Business District that centered around Washington Street. By 1916, in addition to housing the blacked-owned Regal Drug Store on the first floor, upstairs were offices for two African American physicians and a lawyer, Nathaniel J. Frederick, who was an educator, lawyer, newspaper editor and civil rights activist. Frederick argued more cases before the Supreme Court of South Carolina than any black lawyer of his day. The building stood as a touchstone for the story of Frederick and many others, but also as one of fewer than 10 buildings remaining that were part of this early 20th century district.
When we walk through thriving historic districts like the Congaree Vista or Cottontown it is clear that the preservation of our built assets can serve as an economic engine as well as providing context for who we are as a community. At Historic Columbia, we work actively to gain protections for endangered buildings and districts; however, key partners in this effort must include property owners, developers, real estate professionals, elected officials and the general public who reap the benefits and suffer the blows of the choices made in our built environment. Join our mission to save Columbia’s built history and get involved with Historic Columbia today. Become a member, join our volunteer force, make a donation, attend our events and follow along on social media. Visit historiccolumbia.org to learn how you can get involved.
By: Candace Cunningham
University of South Carolina
South Carolina’s 1940s teacher salary equalization campaign was one of the state’s most vibrant and impactful moments of black teacher activism. The state’s first three equalization cases—Malissa Theresa Smith, Eugene C. Hunt, and Viola Louis Duvall—originated in Charleston, but Duvall’s case was the only one to make it to federal district court. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) won Duvall’s case in 1944, but they were eager to guarantee salary equalization. When Albert N. Thompson, a teacher at Columbia’s Booker Washington Heights Elementary School, submitted his salary equalization petition to the Richland County School Board on June 7, 1944, the NAACP was more than willing to offer legal support. Thompson’s case would serve as the final nail in the coffin for unequal teacher salaries in South Carolina. The NAACP abandoned the local appeals process, and instead directly petitioned the federal district court.
On May 26, 1945, Judge Waites Waring ruled in Thompson’s favor, concluding that Columbia’s black teachers were entitled to a fair salary plan. Waring believed that since Duvall’s case, the school district had made an effort to alleviate unequal pay, but there was still a “startling disparity” between black and white teachers’ salaries, even when they had the same amount of experience. The Board had to begin a new classification system, effective spring 1946.
The state based the new classification system on the National Teacher Examination (NTE). Some white officials, such as Columbia school superintendent A. C. Flora, were hesitant to support the exam out of concern that it could prove that black teachers were better trained than some white teachers. But despite the overwhelming evidence that black teachers were dedicated professionals, they were also the products of an unequal education system. Ben D. Wood, the NTE creator, predicted that black teachers would score lower than white teachers. The South Carolina State Board of Education did a two-year study that supported Wood’s prediction, and beginning in 1945 all the state’s teachers were required to take the exam. Rev J. A. De Laine—the Clarendon County teacher who became the foremost leader in the state’s desegregation case, Briggs v. Elliott—rightly called the new certification program an “effort to legally dodge an equal salary decision by the Federal Court.”
South Carolina’s use of the NTE not only facilitated unequal salaries between black and white teachers but also emphasized the black community’s preexisting economic disparities. The gap between the highest and lowest paid teachers widened. Those who did well on the exam and earned higher wages were better financially situated to pursue advanced degrees and increase their earning potential. These additional economic and educational achievements helped legitimize the state’s use of standardized testing since white officials could now present this as proof of the exam’s alleged objectivity. Therefore, while race remained the defining factor in teacher salaries, post-NTE remuneration was also bound to individual socioeconomic status.
Nonetheless, the teacher salary equalization campaign also revealed the shifting tides of civil rights activism. These suits helped to increase the NAACP’s southern membership. They were sometimes the first experience African Americans had in formal protests and provided the foundation for a broader protest movement. Indeed, those who participated in the campaign found it transformative and defining. For NAACP secretary Modjeska Simkins the equalization campaign served as a catalyst—a move from racial uplift to protest politics. Furthermore, many of the individuals who helped realize teacher salary equalization—civil rights attorney Harold Boulware, teacher/activist Septima Clark, journalist/politician John McCray, military veteran/activist Osceola McKain, and Modjeska Simkins—would become seminal figures in the state’s civil rights movement. As this campaign transformed activists it also transformed the whole movement.
These individuals are only a few of the people who played a vital role in Columbia’s rich cultural history. To learn more about them and other black Carolinians please join Historic Columbia for one of its Lunch & Learn Series as it celebrates Black History Month, February 21 & 28, 12-1PM at the Mann-Simons Site, 1403 Richland Street.
Today, South Carolina remains one of the most diverse states in the union. According to the 2015 census, nearly 37 percent of South Carolina’s residents identified as a racial minority. Approximately, 28 percent of the state’s population is African American. The state’s racial diversity is grounded in the history of the founding of the colony.
Closely linked to the island of Barbados, South Carolina was the only colony where blacks outnumbered whites at the turn of the eighteenth century. The arrival of African slaves and free people of color from Barbados and a limited number of white women in the colony all contributed to a society that was accepting of racial diversity and interracial relationships. Unlike other southern states including North Carolina and Virginia, South Carolina never adopted a one-drop rule and did not have an anti-miscegenation clause in its constitution until 1865.
Indeed, South Carolina society had changed by the beginning of the nineteenth century. Racial slavery was embedded in its society and whites viewed slavery as their key to prosperity. What did not change about the state, however, was that as such, South Carolina offers a unique opportunity to study race, law and society during the antebellum period.
To learn about the common-law definition of race and how it related to social and political thought on race in antebellum South Carolina, attend Historic Columbia’s Lunch and Learn series from noon – 1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. This session will be led by guest presenter, Rochelle Outlaw, J.D., Ph.D. Candidate at the University of South Carolina and will be held at the Mann-Simons Site located at 1403 Richland Street. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit historiccolumbia.org/BlackHistory, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-252-1770 x 23.
Historic Columbia is searching for entertainment acts that reflect Jubilee and African American heritage, such as drum and dance groups, gospel, jazz, blues and spoken word acts. The deadline for entertainment registration is July 15, and the entertainer application form is available at historiccolumbia.org.
Associations, churches, civic/service groups, health/medical organizations, charities and other businesses are all invited to participate in this year’s Jubilee. The cost to participate is $25 for non-profit vendors, $55 for marketplace vendors and $125 for food vendors. Spaces are limited and reserved on a first-come, first-served basis once approved by the vendor committee. One table and two chairs are provided at no charge; additional items such as electricity, extra tables and extra space are available for an additional charge of $15 to $25. Vendor application forms are available at historiccolumbia.org, and the deadline for registration is September 4.
Jubilee: Festival of Heritage celebrates the rich cultural heritage and entrepreneurial spirit of the Mann-Simons family. The festival is free and open to the public at the historic Mann-Simons Site at 1403 Richland St. For more information about Jubilee and the Mann-Simons Site, please visit historiccolumbia.org/jubilee, call 803.252.1770 x 36 or email email@example.com.
Historic Columbia and the dance team of Richard Durlach and Breedlove will step back in time at the historic Big Apple to present a night of swing dancing for Swingin’ at the Big Apple on Friday, March 27.
The night begins at 7 p.m. with a lesson in swing dance from Richard Durlach and Breedlove Dance Team. At 8 p.m., put those dance moves to the test during open dance with special guests from the Palmetto Swing Dance Association until 11 p.m. Swingin’ at the Big Apple is $5 for Historic Columbia and Palmetto Swing Dance Association members and $8 for the general public.
The Big Apple, located at 1000 Hampton Street in downtown Columbia, was originally built as the House of Peace Synagogue in 1915. Its Orthodox Jewish congregation outgrew the venue and sold it in 1936, paving the way for Elliot Wright and “Fat” Sam to open the Big Apple Night Club. The international dance craze known as the Big Apple would be born on the floor of this African-American club as a combination of many popular dances, including the Charleston and swing. The dance spread north and cemented the Big Apple as an important site in Columbia’s history.
Celebrating the rich cultural heritage and entrepreneurial spirit of one African American family—who lived and worked on the same property in downtown Columbia, S.C. for more than 140 years—Historic Columbia presents the 36th annual Jubilee: Festival of Heritage. This free, family-friendly event will be held at the Mann-Simons Site at 1403 Richland Street from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 23.
For 36 years, families and friends have come from across the state to celebrate African American heritage at Jubilee. When the festival started in 1978, it was a small community celebration of African American heritage and history. Over the years, Jubilee has grown into a can’t-miss event that draws attendees from all over the state and region.
This year’s Jubilee celebrates the legacies of the Mann-Simons family as well as Modjeska Monteith Simkins. The expanded, two-block festival will span the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Marion Street, stretching from the Mann-Simons Site at the corner of Richland and Marion streets to the Modjeska Simkins House at the corner of Marion and Elmwood streets. Both sites serve as tangible links between early 19th-century African American life and the civil rights and social justice movements that arose from these roots.
More than 3,000 guests attended the festival in 2013 to celebrate the remarkable life of Celia Mann and her descendants with a variety of activities, including hands-on demonstrations, an array of musical entertainment, and vendors with African-influenced and traditional merchandise. This year, multi-generational crowds will enjoy the following:
Tour the Mann-Simons Site ($1 admission), take the celebrated bus tour, “Home places, work places, resting places: African-American Heritage Sites Tour” ($2), and view the new exhibit at Modjeska Monteith Simkins House ($1), exploring the life of Modjeska Monteith Simkins, considered “the matriarch of Civil Rights activists of South Carolina.” The new exhibit and accompanying outdoor interpretive signage broadens audiences’ understanding of the past, present and future through disciplines of history, archeology, African American and southern studies.
An assortment of exhibitors, vendors and purveyors of tasty food and drink will be on hand, and Marion Street between Richland and Elmwood will be blocked off for this vibrant fair! Historic Columbia is accepting applications for vendors until August 8 (applications can be found at historiccolumbia.org).
Friends of Jubilee
Are you interested in supporting this free community festival? Become a Friend of Jubilee! With your donation to Jubilee, you will receive recognition at the festival, free tour passes and more. Visit historiccolumbia.org to learn more and make a donation.
Historic Columbia is searching for entertainment acts that reflect Jubilee and African American heritage, such as drum and dance groups, gospel, blues and spoken word acts, and for demonstration artists who can demonstrate and engage guests in crafts that reflect African American arts such as basket weaving, print making or indigo dying. The deadline for entertainment registration is June 30, and the entertainer application form is available online here. Interested demonstration artists should apply at JubileeEducation78@gmail.com.
Associations, churches, civic/service groups, health/medical organizations, charities and other businesses are all invited to participate in this year’s Jubilee. The cost to participate is $25 for non-profit vendors, $55 for marketplace vendors and $125 for food vendors. Spaces are limited and reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. One table and two chairs are provided at no charge; additional items such as electricity, extra tables and extra space are available for an additional charge of $15 to $25.
Vendor application forms are available here, and the deadline for registration is Aug. 8. Please send vendor applications to JubileeVendors@gmail.com.
Jubilee: Festival of Heritage celebrates the rich cultural heritage and entrepreneurial spirit of the Mann-Simons family. The festival is free and open to the public, running from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the historic Mann-Simons Site at 1403 Richland St. For more information about Jubilee and the Mann-Simons Site, please click here.
Historic Columbia opens its first exhibit at the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House on Sunday, March 16 with an open house from 1 to 5 pm. Through this permanent exhibit, Historic Columbia tells the story of South Carolina’s most influential human rights advocate of the 20th century.
Simkins worked for social reform all her life, during a time when it was not only difficult for her to be of color but also a woman. While heavily involved with the NAACP and other activist groups, Simkins’ most significant work was on the 1950 South Carolina Federal District Court case Briggs v. Elliott, a lawsuit that called for equalization of black Clarendon County Schools with white schools. This case was eventually reworked as one of several cases that directly challenged the “separate but equal” doctrine in the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In 1981, a coalition of civil rights groups including the Columbia NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, the National Council of Negro Women and the Urban League honored Simkins for her untiring efforts to aid the underrepresented and underprivileged. Later, she received the state’s highest honor from the governor, the Order of the Palmetto, for her lifetime of work.
This exhibit combines images, text, video and never-before displayed artifacts to offer unprecedented coverage of the activist, her life, work and lasting impact on the state of South Carolina. This exhibit is offered free to the public on five dates in March and April thanks to the generous support of our sponsors:
Sunday, March 16, 1 pm to 5 pm – Opening Day: view the exhibit and speak with scholars, activists and family members who knew and worked with Mrs. Simkins. Speakers include Dr. Cleveland Sellers, Dr. Henri Monteith Treadwell, Beryl Dakers, Brett Bursey and Dr. Bobby Donaldson. Each will give informal comments about Mrs. Simkins on the half hour throughout the afternoon and be available for a short time to speak with attendees.
Private tours can also be arranged for groups of 10 or more.
Home to Modjeska Monteith Simkins from 1932 until her death on April 5, 1992, the Modjeska Monteith Simkins House is a one-story cottage at 2025 Marion Street in downtown Columbia that was used for lodging and as a meeting space for local and national civil rights leaders and NAACP lawyers such as Thurgood Marshall during a time when blacks were excluded from city hotels.
ABC Columbia’s Anderson Burns interviewed Historic Columbia Foundation’s Director of Historic House Museums Fielding Freed about the Reconstructing Religion: The Presbyterian Experience (1865-1876) Exhibit on display from March 22 – May 12 at the Robert Mills House and Gardens.
Check out the story and video here.
This exhibit will highlight aspects of religion in Columbia during Reconstruction (1865-1876) including the post-emancipation emergence of separate African American churches such as Ladson Presbyterian as well as young Woodrow Wilson’s move to Columbia in 1870.
Historic Columbia Foundation will debut Reconstructing Religion: The Presbyterian Experience (1865-1876), a new exhibit focusing on the role of the Presbyterian church in Columbia during Reconstruction, on Friday, March 22. The exhibit, on display through May 12, will also take a look at President Woodrow Wilson’s family and their time in Columbia.
Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, father of President Woodrow Wilson, moved his family to Columbia, SC, in 1870 to teach at the Columbia Theological Seminar, the Presbyterian educational institution located at the Robert Mills House for nearly 100 years. At the end of the Civil War, the seminary was struggling to survive. As a respected preacher and leader in the southern Presbyterian Church, it was hoped that adding Dr. Wilson to the distinguished faculty would attract students and donors to the institution.
This exhibit will focus on Dr. Wilson and the Columbia Theological Seminary and highlight aspects of religion in Columbia during Reconstruction (1865-1876), including the post-emancipation emergence of separate African American churches such as Ladson Presbyterian.
Wilson’s maternal uncle, James Woodrow, was also an influential theologian in the southern Presbyterian Church and was later involved in a dispute over his teaching of evolution at the Seminary. Artifacts on exhibit will include the pew used by the Wilson family at First Presbyterian Church, the Wilson family Bible and an American first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species published by D. Appleton and Co. in 1860.
The exhibit is shown as part of the regularly scheduled guided tours of the Robert Mills House. Tours run at the top of the hour Tuesday through Saturday, 9 am to 3 pm and Sunday, 1 to 4 pm. Free for HCF members, the tour is $6 for non-member adults and $3 for non-member youth. Tickets can be purchased at the Gift Shop at Robert Mills, 1616 Blanding Street.
Accompanying the exhibit, HCF has joined with Ladson Presbyterian and the University of South Carolina to host a symposium at 6 pm on Thursday, March 21 at Ladson Presbyterian, 1720 Sumter Street. This event will explore the early development of the African American churches organized during the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War. Keynote speaker Dr. Reginald Hildebrand of UNC-Chapel Hill will discuss his research into this momentous period of American religious history. The symposium is free and open to the public.