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Community historian encourages African American families to tell their own stories

Jackie Whitmore stands next to a historical marker in South Carolina.

Building and understanding community has motivated Jackie Whitmore since he was captivated by his grandmother’s family stories during his childhood in Columbia, South Carolina. It led him to a career in social work and fueled a passion for African American history in his home state.

That passion led to Whitmore’s selection for the 2024 South Carolina African American History Calendar produced by the S.C. Department of Education. Calendar honorees are chosen for their accomplishments and the impact of African American history and culture on the state and nation.

With the help of family and friends, the University of South Carolina graduate (’99 master’s, social work) coordinated installation of six historical markers across South Carolina, highlighting African American history in Richland, Calhoun and Williamsburg counties. The sites include the McCord House in Columbia; Mount Pleasant Baptist Church; and Oakland, Lang Syne, Good Samaritan and True Blue cemeteries.

“I was raised by my grandma, and when I was with her, I would just listen to her talk about family. When my grandmother died, I was just devastated,” Whitmore says. “One of my teachers in high school told me to write in my journal about my grandmother.”

Once he started writing about his grandmother, Whitmore began talking to other relatives to hear their stories. Eventually, his interest in family and African American history snowballed, which led to his efforts to install historical markers in communities where his ancestors lived.

He also led an effort to erect memorial stones in Fort Motte, South Carolina, honoring his relatives Sen. Samuel L. Duncan and Rep. Edward I. Cain who served in the state legislatures during Reconstruction and created the Ben Hanes Historical Display with photographs, news clippings and other artifacts donated from local community members to chronicle their stories.

In addition, Whitmore coordinates four reunions: the United Family Reunion Descendants and Related Families of Lang Syne Plantation, the Bruorton-Brewington Reunion, the United Levy Reunion and the Old Guard Military Reunion.

“When I was called about being on the calendar, I said, ‘I think you’ve got the wrong person,” says Whitmore. “I didn’t even know how to process it. It was a great honor for me because I was selected alongside other people who have made great contributions.”

Whitmore values his inclusion on the calendar as acknowledgement of his efforts to increase education and awareness about African American history, particularly among young people. It’s a cause that is personal to him because one of the markers, the McCord House, is on Pendleton Street near the USC College of Social Work.

The Greek Revival house was built in 1849 for David and Louisa McCord by enslaved workers from her plantation, Lang Syne, in Fort Motte, where Whitmore has family ties. During the Civil War, the house was a central depot for food intended for patients at the Confederate hospital located on the South Carolina College campus.

“I went to USC, and I passed by that house so many times and had no idea about its significance to my people,” Whitmore says. “So much happens in our story that we may not know about. I would have loved to have known the history of that house during the time I was at the university.”

A 1987 graduate of Dreher High School in Columbia, Whitmore completed his undergraduate degree at Allen University before earning his master’s in social work at USC. He worked for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and Palmetto Health (now Prisma) as a community social worker. He is retired from the South Carolina Army National Guard where he did a tour of duty in Bosnia. He also served as a professor of social science at Midlands Tech and Voorhees College.

“You can do two things with information. You can either pull people together, or you can pull them apart.”

Jackie Whitmore

As a social worker, Whitmore recognized the importance of understanding the culture and history of the communities he worked in because of their impact on the people he worked with.

“You can do two things with information. You can either pull people together, or you can pull them apart,” he says. “Be aware of what your impact might be. My goal is to uplift people. Everything I’ve done has been through the support and help of other people.”

Whitmore says he hopes his interest in African American history will serve as a catalyst for young people.

“I want it to be an impactful thing that other people can learn from, learn more about history, learn more about the state, learn more about the contributions from the people on those markers,” he says. “I always say the responsibility of teaching African American history is not on other people. Talk to your people. Learn about your family’s history.”