Protection of historic plantation discussed

CHARLESTON - McLeod Plantation, with its striking row of slave cabins, has deep historical significance to the Gullah Geechee people that needs to be protected, community representatives told leaders at the College of Charleston.

The college announced in September that it is considering purchasing the 40-acre property on James Island from the Historic Charleston Foundation for $4 million. The college is now in a period of "due diligence," exploring whether to buy the property and how much to pay for it, President George Benson said.

College leaders invited representatives from African-American history and heritage groups to the college Tuesday to listen to their thoughts and concerns about the future of McLeod, Benson said.

Thomesena Stokes-Marshall, project director for the Sweetgrass Arts Festival Association, said she hopes basket makers can pick sweetgrass at McLeod. "There are sweetgrass plants that have been there forever."

She wanted the college to "engage members of the African-American community" if it purchases the plantation.

Michael Allen, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor coordinator for the National Park Service, said the college invited community leaders "through goodwill" so they could provide "good guidance and good reasoning."

The common thread running through all who participated was the emphasis on the importance of using the plantation to educate the public about the history and culture of the Gullah Geechee people, Allen said.

The plantation's slave cabins, main house and fields are all historically significant, he said.

Tom O'Rourke, executive director of the Charleston Park and Recreation Commission, wasn't invited to the meeting. He said the commission was interested in buying the property before the college and the Historic Charleston Foundation came to a tentative agreement.

"But we've turned the page," he said. "There's a buyer and a seller, and we are neither."

The college and its foundation have not decided whether to purchase the property, he said. The move would require approval from the college's board of trustees, which meets Jan. 29, and the foundation's board of directors, which meets Feb. 8. The college likely will decide early in February, he said.

Even if the college doesn't buy the property, Tuesday's meeting "felt like a historic meeting for the College of Charleston," Benson said.

It pulled important community groups together to talk directly to representatives from the college, he said.

After the meeting, Benson said, "I was inspired. I was moved as we were largely on the same page."

Other groups represented at the meeting were Friends of McLeod, the S.C. African American Heritage Commission and the African American Historical Alliance of South Carolina.

Benson said the college isn't certain what it will do with the property if it decides to buy it. The only thing certain is that it will be "preserved and shared."