Race and the College of Charleston: An exhibit you must see

It looks like a properly dignified educational exhibit. But the fine print of what's on display in the first-floor rotunda of the College of Charleston's Addlestone Library is nothing like dignified - it's shocking.

One of the easel-mounted poster boards reads:

The struggle for integration at the College of Charleston, 1943-2015.jpg

“[College of Charleston] President Grice dug in his heels [against desegregation]. In a statement to the Trustees sent after five more African Americans applied to the College in September 1964, Grice openly endorsed racial discrimination: ‘I do not agree that we should send application blanks to those persons whom we know to be Negroes…’"

Another poster board reads:

“Since the founding of the College of Charleston in 1785, African Americans have remained a constant presence on campus. Enslaved African Americans constructed many of the College’s oldest buildings, and profits extracted from enslaved bodies provided the financial foundation for the college….After emancipation, African Americans worked as janitors and maids on campus, but they remained excluded from the student body, faculty, and administration.”

The exhibit is titled "The Struggle for Integration at the College of Charleston, 1943-2015." The various responses from College officials, including presidents, during most of the struggle are  captured in all their naked and defiant Jim Crowism. Captured, too, is the heroism of the young blacks who struggled against College officialdom, and even alumni, to become students at the College their forebears helped build, brick by brick. 

There are black students at the College today, and black faculty members. But the exhibit says about this state-operated and -funded institution: "The percentage of African American students at the College of Charleston has remained roughly the same for the past four decades and falls well below the percentage of African Americans in South Carolina." 

 So the struggle goes on.

If you aren't a regular visitor to the Addlestone, please go there to see this exhibit. It's shocking, but also truthful. Race in Charleston - today or historically - can't get enough truth.

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The exhibit will continue through March. The Addlestone Library is on Calhoun at Coming Streets. During regular business hours, parking is available in nearby public lots. In the evening and on weekends, visitors can park in the lot on Pitt Street adjacent to the library.

The exhibit was curated by Dr. Mari N. Crabtree, Assistant Professor with the African American Studies Program at the College, with the help of research assistant Taylor Matthews. The College cooperated in preparation of the exhibit.

The College's Avery Research Center for African American Culture and History was an instrumental partner. One of the black students who struggled to integrate the College was Lucille Whipper, who was a student at the Avery Normal Institute when the effort began in the 1940s and later helped found and to become the first President of the Avery Research Center, which succeeded the Normal Institute.

TOM GRUBISICH