No 'living history' honors where basic rights were declared in Charleston

Charleston Club House after the 1886 earthquake. Credit: Historic Charleston Foundation.

Charleston Club House after the 1886 earthquake. Credit: Historic Charleston Foundation.

Charleston is "living history," its 5 million annual visitors are told in continual promotional messages. But not all the city's history gets to live. Take the state constitutional convention of 1868, which was held in the Charleston Club House at 71 Meeting St., which is now part of a complex of federal buildings. The constitution that came out of that convention is a remarkable declaration of civil and human rights that, among other things, gave the vote to all males, regardless of race, and without any conditions. Former slaveholders and slaves were among the delegates who overwhelmingly adopted the constitution, which voters later approved. The constitution also established a free and universal public school system.

But none of that history is brought to the attention of the steady stream of visitors who pass along the courtyard in front of where the Charleston Club House stood before it was reduced to a stark ruin by the earthquake of 1886. Very appropriately, there is a statue  of the late J. Waties Waring, the judge in the local federal court whose dissenting opinion in a 1951 case was woven into the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 decision outlawing school segregation as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. But why isn't there even a simple marker in recognition of what happened in 1868 near that very spot?

It appears the answer might involve a bit of historical amnesia. On the website of the Historic Charleston Foundation, there is a page devoted to 71 Meeting St., which is just down the street from the organization's headquarters. There is a photograph of the ruined Charleston Club House before it was demolished. But there's no text detailing what took place in its once-grand meeting room in the winter of 1868. There are just these sentences: "No additional building history on file. Needs further research."

Perhaps the Foundation could ask one of its research assistants to Google "South Carolina Constitutional Convention of 1868."  Or consult the transcript of the proceedings that surely is on the shelves of the Foundation's formidable Margaretta Childs Archives.

TOM GRUBISICH