More than 450 buildings in Columbia were destroyed and many residents were left homeless and destitute in February 1865 after Union Gen. William T. Sherman’s troops marched with vengeance into the city.
The fire that nearly wiped out the city is the focus of two months of lectures, exhibits and tours designed to help current residents determine look back on the nation’s most devastating conflict and gauge its impact even today.
Here are a few of the people who will share their insights in coming weeks, along with a list of many of the events to commemorate the Burning of Columbia.
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Dean Hunt didn’t take the traditional route to becoming a historian.
After serving a stint in the Air Force and earning a degree in history at USC, Hunt worked as a manager at a textile mill and as a real estate agent. Neither of those jobs felt right.
Then he heard about the Program of Alternative Certification for Educators, which smooths the transition of college graduates with non-education degrees into the teaching profession. He completed the PACE training and started teaching eighth-grade history at Crayton Middle School.
Hunt, who has taken a hiatus from teaching, loves his subject so much he can’t stop learning. He has taken a sabbatical from teaching to lead historical tours and make presentations. His special interest in Sherman’s March through the state led to a four-part lecture series at Richland Library, with the final two events at 6 p.m. Jan. 8 and Feb. 5.
Barbara Bates Smith
Barbara Bates Smith’s specialty is adapting literary works for one-woman stage presentations. Smith will bring to life the words of Lee Smith’s novel “On Agate Hill” at Richland Library on Feb. 12 as part of the One Book, One Community event.
“On Agate Hill” doesn’t deal with the burning of Columbia, but it follows the life of a Southern woman in the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War.
Smith is a stage veteran who in recent years has focused on first-person biographical and autobiographical storytelling of characters both fictional and real. For “On Agate Hill,” she takes the role of the three characters Smith used to tell the story of Molly Petree, with help from musician Jeff Sebens.
South Carolina is a special place for Smith. Her daughter lives in Columbia, her mother was originally from Orangeburg and she learned to swim in the Edisto River. Smith and her husband, Russell, live in the Crabtree Mountain area of Haywood County, N.C.
Heather Andrea Williams
Heather Andrea Williams is among the top historians on the experience of slavery in the 19th century. Her book “Self-Taught: African-American Education in Slavery and Freedom” deals with the importance of literacy from before the Civil War through emancipation.
Williams, Presidential Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, will sit down with historian Walter Edgar on Feb. 3 to discuss the impact of emancipation and freedom during the Civil War period. The fourth of Edgar’s series of five Conversations on the Civil War, the talk will be at the Campus Room of the Capstone dorm 5:30-6:30 p.m.
Williams, who was on the faculty at the University of North Carolina before moving the Pennsylvania this year, has both a doctorate in American studies and a law degree. She reached lofty realms in both academia and law, serving as an assistant attorney general and section chief for the state of New York and as a trial attorney in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
DJ Spooky is the stage name of Paul D. Miller, a hip-hop musician, author and producer who grew up in Washington and is now based in New York. He first gained fame for his musical work, which builds on electronic experimentation.
His connection to the Burning of Columbia commemoration revolves around his 2004 film “Rebirth of a Nation.” That project is DJ Spooky’s take on D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation.” The 1915 film was considered groundbreaking in many technical aspects, but it glorified the Ku Klux Klan and denigrated black men, played in the film by white men with black makeup.
DJ Spooky did some ground-breaking of his own, creating a video remix of the Griffith movie as a live show. He used video and audio cutting and layering to present his interpretation of the film’s historical significance. “Rebirth of a Nation” will be shown at The Nickelodeon at 7 p.m. on Jan. 19, with DJ Spooky on hand to introduce the film and lead a post-viewing discussion.
Anne Sarah Rubin
Anne Sarah Rubin is an associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the director of the Center for Digital History and Education. Her recent book, “Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and American Memory,” explores the multi-faceted legacies of Sherman’s trek through the South in 1864-65.
On the date of the 150th anniversary of the burning of Columbia, Feb. 17, Rubin will be on a panel with Tom Brown of USC, Megan Kate Nelson of Harvard and Caitlin Verboon of Yale from 9-11:30 a.m. at the Columbia Museum of Art to discuss that event and its still-reverberating impact.
Rubin along with Kelley Bell of the UMBC Visual Arts Department and the Imaging Research Center created an informative, easy-to-digest multimedia presentation on Sherman’s March to the Sea. While the details on shermansmarch.org end when the troops arrived in Savannah, a visit to that website will help you understand the mood as Sherman headed north to Columbia.