The University of South Carolina made a visible declaration of the contributions of the black community when it unveiled a new African-American Presence Wall on Wednesday.
The wall, on permanent display outside a ballroom at the Russell House, features eight panels of words and pictures tracing African-Americans’ history and leadership at the university from 1801 to today. It includes several periods of the school’s history relating to African Americans including when it was known as South Carolina College, Reconstruction, the end of Reconstruction, segregation and the modern Civil Rights Era.
The panels highlight many “firsts”, including the first black student body president and the establishment of the African-American Studies program.
“We hope people will be educated about the things African-Americans did at the university in the past and the things they are doing now,” said Rodrick Moore, director of multicultural student affairs. “I don’t think a lot of the current students know the full history of African-Americans at the University of South Carolina. We’re hoping this wall will help them learn.”
A sampling of facts from three periods in USC’s history related to African-Americans, as reported by the USC office of Multicultural Student Affairs:
• African-American presence at the antebellum South Carolina College was limited to slaves owned and hired by the college to perform maintenance of grounds and buildings, to cook and serve meals, and to wash laundry. Construction of the Horseshoe buildings and manufacturing of the bricks themselves also were done by slaves. Faculty members were allowed to bring their personal slaves with them, and behind each faculty residence was a building that housed a kitchen and slave quarters. The only remaining one of these structures is in the President’s House garden.
• In 1868, a new South Carolina Constitution was passed requiring that universities be “free and open to all the children and youths of the State, without regard to race and color.” In 1873, the University of South Carolina became the only state-supported Southern university to fully integrate during the Reconstruction Era.
• African-Americans continue to distinguish themselves at USC. In 2004, Burnele Venable Powell was named dean of the law school. In 2007 the university organized the Institute for African American Research, and Jackie Alexander became the first African-American editor of The Daily Gamecock newspaper. In 2011, Lemuel Watson was appointed Dean of the School of Education and Michelle Martin was selected as the first Augusta Baker Chair in Childhood Literacy.