Dr. Terrance Weik (Principal Investigator) and Dr. Eric Jones (Collaborating Investigator) are partnering to study the history of African-American reparations from 1800-2000 with a focus on Hilton Head, South Carolina. Although his primary research interest is anti-slavery resistance, Dr. Weik became involved in researching reparations in the early 2000s by first presenting a paper at a reparations conference at Benedict College. Dr. Jones is interested in why people in the mid-late 1800s in the rural Northeastern United States lived where they lived and how they interacted with their environment. Together, these professors' combined interests in race and place have led to the project, "Reparations and Lowcountry Racial Landscapes". This project is funded by the Racial Justice and Social Equity Research Fund at UofSC.
One major myth that Dr. Weik mentions is that reparations are meant to enrich people. From the beginning, reparatory movements have focused on gaining access to basic life necessities. Emancipation from slavery, for instance, didn't come with benefits. Many freedmen had nothing - no money, no resources, and limited opportunities. Also consider that many freedmen were not allowed to learn to read or write during slavery and only had work experience from plantation manual labor. Dr. Jones notes that, sometimes, people purposefully ignore the historical context of reparations in order to make the claim that it's a baseless, money-grabbing endeavor.
In particular, Dr. Weik and Dr. Jones' project examines how black communities have been removed from their land in Hilton Head and, as a result, do not benefit from the development of the city's thriving tourism industry. From the 1950s to 2000, the city's black population shifted from being the majority to being 8%. The growth of the tourism industry pushing the black community off the land is an example of the dangers of the Growth Narrative. Dr. Jones notes that one should question the morality of growth and progress: "[T]he Growth Narrative gets talked about as being good for everybody, but, as we know in a lot of American politics, everybody is often times not actually everybody". The development of the city makes the land valuable. The increasing value of the land and the desire to own such land has led to land dispossession of Gullah and Geechee communities in Hilton Head from issues concerning taxation and land swindling.
These land issues involve politics, and politics is a sphere that many academic disciplines are hesitant to involve themselves in. Dr. Weik notes, "[P]art of it is how we view what we do. Are we simply studying people, or can we do something which goes beyond studying people and that might delve into the world of politics or have political implications"? For archaeology, this self-view of being objective observers is due to many factors - i.e., some members of society viewing academics who question the political status quo as being a threat, the discipline being a silo of people discussing findings mainly amongst themselves, and researchers studying physical objects without focusing on the people who made them. The conservatism of archaeology also comes from the discipline traditionally being made up of primarily white men. As the advantaged social group, to acknowledge the plight of the socially disadvantaged communities being studied requires having to consider involving themselves in political social change. During the discipline's earlier history, such social change may have not been preferred or considered a priority by researchers.
However, due to the increase in social justice movements, such as Black Lives Matter and climate change acknowledgement, Dr. Weik says that academics are more open to talk explicitly about political issues and are less likely to be seen as a threat from questioning the political status quo. There is now an expectation for archaeologists as well as other academics to involve community members in their work.
Both researchers of the Hilton Head reparations project consider the positive affect of social justice movements on archaeology's community engagement to be an encouragement and a necessity. "History is used to justify a lot of things," says Dr. Jones. "Us engaging with communities and [helping them] be part of that telling of history so that it's not one told about them but [one] they get to tell I think is important".