National Park Service partnership advances UofSC’s role in telling civil rights history
By Alexis Watts, WattsAC@mailbox.sc.edu
The Center for Civil Rights History and Research at the University of South Carolina is partnering with the National Park Service to create new opportunities for the public to connect with the state’s pivotal but often overlooked contributions to the American civil rights movement.
Under a five-year agreement with the park service, the center will receive $3.4 million to expand the center’s existing work in civil rights education and scholarly research, including support for exhibits and programming at South Carolina sites in the African American Civil Rights Network. The center will help to grow the network in South Carolina by serving as a resource to property owners, community leaders and organizations interested in joining the network.
Congress created the African American Civil Rights Network in 2017 to present a comprehensive narrative of the people, places and events associated with the African American civil rights movement in the United States. The network encompasses historic sites, museums, libraries and interpretive programs to commemorate, honor and understand the history, significance and ongoing relevance of the movement.
“Our commitment and success in preserving and sharing South Carolina’s stories in civil rights history positions our institution to serve a key role among our partner sites in the African American Civil Rights Network.”
University President Michael Amiridis
“I’m so pleased to join with the Center for Civil Rights History and Research in advancing much needed scholarship to deepen our understanding of pivotal moments and people in the American civil rights movement. Together we will work to preserve and promote the often overlooked contributions to the American civil rights here in South Carolina and serve as a national model for interdisciplinary work in civil rights history, research and education,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said.
Rep. James E. Clyburn said the partnership would expand the center’s vital work in civil rights research, education, programming and advocacy for South Carolina and the country. Clyburn donated his personal papers to the center in 2015, anchoring its collections, and has been a significant supporter since the center’s inception.
“South Carolina’s rich civil rights history has not received the recognition it deserves. I authored the language to create this partnership between the National Park Service and USC’s civil rights center so that this important story could be documented and shared,” Clyburn said. “I am pleased this partnership has been formalized and look forward to this collaboration leading to a better understanding and appreciation of our state’s contributions to racial equity and justice in this country.”
University President Michael Amiridis said the center fulfills an important outreach component in the mission of the state’s flagship university, extending educational programming and materials with communities across the state, advancing vital conversations and contributing to South Carolina’s economy through its heritage tourism industry.
“The Center for Civil Rights History and Research at USC has already made great strides in gathering and showcasing pivotal pieces of our past, and we remain committed to ensuring its strong future,” Amiridis said. “Our commitment and success in preserving and sharing South Carolina’s stories in civil rights history positions our institution to serve a key role among our partner sites in the African American Civil Rights Network.”
Bobby Donaldson, executive director of the university’s Center for Civil Rights History and Research, said the National Park Service partnership will enable the university to preserve important archival collections and make them accessible to the public.
“This cooperative agreement and partnership are transformative for our university,” Donaldson said. “The National Park Service is the leading public history entity in the United States, and our collaboration enables the center to document the history of the civil rights movement in South Carolina and across the country. This partnership will expand our staff capacity and provide the center with additional resources to assist historic sites, museums, archives and educational institutions across the South.”
Park service funding will help the center preserve and grow collections, including new oral histories; train K-12 teachers; create and host public programs; and develop exhibits that chronicle the history of the civil rights movement in South Carolina and the United States.
The university’s Center for Civil Rights History and Research is the first educational organization in the state dedicated to chronicling South Carolina’s civil rights story. The National Park Service has been a strong supporter of the center with several federal grant awards, including $100,000 for summer teacher training institute in 2017, $40,000 to create the traveling “Justice for All” civil rights exhibit and three $500,000 awards to restore Booker T. Washington High School. The traveling exhibit, which launched in Sumter in January, visited Columbia in the summer and is now on display in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
The $1.5 million in park service grants for Booker T. Washington renovations will fund window restoration, mechanical fire sprinkler infrastructure and a community meeting room and create a permanent display area for the “Justice for All” exhibit as well as an exhibit chronicling the history of the Ward One and Wheeler Hill neighborhoods. Renovations completed in 2013 were funded by the Rev. Solomon Jackson, a Booker T. Washington graduate, with support from the university. These enhancements included restoration of exterior brick, a new entrance, front stairwell, elevator and heating and air conditioning system.
Share this Story! Let friends in your social network know what you are reading about