Invisible no more
Essay collection sheds light on the largely unknown history of Black people at the University of South Carolina
By Chris Horn, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-3681
The University of South Carolina desegregated in 1963, but the history of Black people on campus extends back to the university’s beginning in the early 19th century. In 10 illuminating essays edited by Robert Greene II and Tyler Parry, Invisible No More (USC Press 2021) tells that story.
Invisible No More begins with a look at the experiences of enslaved people on campus courtesy of Graham Duncan, an archivist in the South Caroliniana Library. Duncan uses primary sources in which the enslaved people being written about were not given a voice. However, instead of telling their stories from the perspective of slave owners or members of the university’s board of trustees, he positions them at the center of his essay, which names all of the known enslaved people on the campus.
The subsequent essay, by Tyler Parry, imagines what the experience of being a Black person on campus might have been like during Reconstruction. “Some students were formerly enslaved people, some were born free and there were a few white students,” says Parry. “What were those relationships like? I also look at the establishment of the Normal School on campus in which professors taught future teachers, most of them Black women.”
South Carolina’s public schools during and after Reconstruction also get a look. “Struggle for Educational Access in South Carolina, 1865-1890,” by Brian Robinson, examines South Carolina’s decision to defund and resegregate those schools. “The author uses newspaper debates within the public square. If you didn’t know better, you would have thought it was a Twitter debate,” says Parry.
Elsewhere, the book spotlights individual figures. One uses personal letters to reconstruct the life of Simon P. Smith from his enslavement at South Carolina College all the way into the early 20th century; another explores the life of Richard T. Greener, Harvard’s first Black graduate who also became the University of South Carolina’s first Black professor.
But Invisible No More doesn’t dwell solely on the university’s early history. The second half of the book explores the actions that informed the events of 1963, the year the university admitted its first three Black students. While much attention is paid to the specific events of that watershed year, the book also provides plenty of historical context.
“Groups of the NAACP were pushing for desegregation, not so much to actually desegregate the university as they were trying to find ways to equalize Black schools in South Carolina,” says Greene, who contributes the essay, “Beyond 1963: Race, Education, and the NAACP Desegregation Campaigns at the University of South Carolina.” “That was a big part of their strategy in the 1930s and ’40s. That leads to the establishment of a law school for Blacks at South Carolina State in Orangeburg, which, ironically, is where the lawyers trained who later helped the three students who desegregated the University of South Carolina.”
Likewise, the story doesn’t end with the admission of Henrie Monteith, Robert Anderson and James Solomon. Another essay also looks at the rise of the African-American Studies program at USC in the 1970s and ’80s, the development of the Office of Minority Student Affairs and the experiences of Black and other minority students at the university.
As the university, the state and the nation wrestle with a complicated, sometimes ugly past, the book provides fresh perspectives on the Black campus experience and how that experience should be recognized, remembered and honored. In the final chapter, for example, the authors consider contemporary efforts by the university to address its own history and frames them in a broader context.
“How do we commemorate the enslaved on campus? How do we commemorate Richard Greener on campus, and so forth?” Greene asks. “This is part of a larger national story about recognizing Black trailblazers on campuses across the country.”
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