I once lived in South Carolina and was nearly run out of town due to my insistence that the rest of the United States believes USC is in Los Angeles.
I have a working theory that this is the real reason South Carolina led the southern states in secession back in 1861.
Turns out this is not the school’s only point of contention.
There was a day when the “South Carolina College”, founded 1801, was the undisputed intellectual training ground of the American South’s elite sons. Those with means sent their young men to the college to learn to be leaders. It was the feeder system for South Carolina’s government. The state house is only two blocks away.The school put extra emphasis on the power of oratory and debate. The Euphradian Society, founded in 1806, held regular debates on current events and matters of importance, the hottest topic regularly being slavery.
In this upper room of Harper College at USC, students and future leaders honed the argument on why slavery was justified and secession necessary or unavoidable. The debates easily moved from the college over to the capitol.
Under the guise of a harmless tourist I started asking questions of people sitting behind desks. Their uncomfortable looks and lack of answers led me to the basement of the library where lives a very friendly and amiable professor of history. She was happy to talk to me… because she has tenure.
The question that flummoxed the tour guides was, “Are there any buildings left on campus that were known to have originally been used to house slaves?” Turns out the answer is a remarkable “yes”. Remarkable in that it is one of only two remaining such buildings in the country (the other one is at UVA).
What is listed as the carriage house next to the President’s mansion, was originally the quarters of the house slaves. There is no marker, no plaque, no mention anywhere on any official publication of this historical fact other than a byline in a pamphlet.
The good professor went on to tell me of her and her student’s struggles to bring facts like these to light. She believes there are folks on the board who would rather not talk about such unpleasantry. They fail to see any relevance in these details.
She went on to tell more of the school’s history that the board does not like retold. The PR man in me understands why, but what she told me next is so tragically interesting that I cannot see how any student, or institution for that matter, interested in history would skip this tale.
During the civil war the school closed and became a confederate hospital. When the North marched through Columbia it became the home of Union troops that remained through reconstruction.
At the close of the war classes resumed and control was turned back over to the state. When Franklin J. Moses was elected governor (1872), the college integrated. By 1876 the school was predominantly black.
A state school in 1876 predominantly black!? Wow!
In 1876 South Carolina began burning again. Sherman had nothing to do with this fire, it was politics, but the flames were just as real. Republican and Democrats both claimed victory and the incumbent was kept in power by Federal forces. Then the President, Rutherford B. Hayes, ended reconstruction and ordered the troops to stand down. This led to the incumbent not just leaving office but leaving town.
Wade Hampton III, a former confederate general took office and in 1877 the University closed its doors, reopening three years later as an all-white school.
It would not admit another black student till federal law forced the school leaders to do so in 1963.
I suppose we have all moved past those days. It is all just history so why should we bring it up today? Lets all just move on. That is fair. The students giving tours seemed to not know any of this story. They did not tell it and when asked looked confused. Why should a chemistry major know about this stuff anyhow?
My father would have been 20 years old in 1963. How “historical” is that?