Charleston ranks high in poverty compared to 'benchmark' metros

In poverty, metro Charleston ranks second worst compared to "benchmark" regions around the U.S.

Most  poor people locally are black. The ratio is more than 3 to 1 black to white, even though the overall metro Charleston population is close to two thirds white.

Here's what a Beyond Catfish Row chart shows about the extent of local poverty compared to its benchmarks:

The eight benchmark regions are included in the "One Region" survey that the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance will be publishing in May. The recently executive summary of the survey says metro Charleston "has the greatest discrepancies in most measures" when compared with benchmark regions in key areas of racial equality and equity. But the summary didn't include any numbers.

The Brookings' survey that Beyond Catfish Row used for the chart above defines poverty two ways - the poor population in census tracts with at least 20% poverty (columns 2 and 3 in the chart) and the poor in tracts with at least 40% poverty (column 4 and 5). 

What urban regions like the Tri-County area are doing and not doing to close minority income gaps and thereby reduce poverty is getting increasing attention as a major factor in their economic vitality, including their ability to compete in global markets.  Amy Liu, VP and Director of the Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program calls closing those gaps an "economic imperative." One way or another, the forthcoming One Region Strategy will have to face metro Charleston's wide gap between white and black incomes.

In one comparison of poverty, Charleston did much better than its benchmarks. That was on levels of concentrated poverty from 2000 to 2012, which aren't on the chart. The 12-year rate of increase in concentrated poverty for Charleston was 45,5%. The increases for the benchmarks ranged from 65.3% in Jacksonville to 1,221.5% in Salt Lake City. The huge increase in Salt Lake City was driven by the small numbers of people in concentrated poverty - 219 in 2000 and 2,894 in 2012.

The Census Bureau's current poverty threshold for a family of three, including two children, is $19,096. That number goes up or down, depending on the size of the family, including the number of children.

TOM GRUBISICH

Justice Ministry reaffirms mission: 'To outlaw racism in Charleston'

Leaders of the 30 congregations in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry declare their commitments at the CAJM rally at Mount. Moriah Baptist Church on Monday night.

Leaders of the 30 congregations in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry declare their commitments at the CAJM rally at Mount. Moriah Baptist Church on Monday night.

One after another, leaders of the 30 congregations in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry went to the mic at Mount Moriah Baptist Church in North Charleston Monday night and made their commitment to bring pledged numbers of members to CAJM's April 18 Nehemiah Action Assembly.

Fifty, said one leader. 75, said another, 100, said one more. On and on it went: 150, 200, "everybody in our congregation."

When all the commitments were made, it was clear that the CAJM had a good shot at producing a Nehemiah Action that would pack the main sanctuary at Mount Moriah with about 2,300 congregation members. The main purpose of the Action is to demonstrate to the community - in particular local public officials - the Ministry's determination to carry out a biblically backed direct action program of social justice in racially disparate regional Charleston. ("Nehemiah Action" is named after the biblical prophet who prayer to God was undergirded by a commitment to justice on Earth.)

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III: "We have done the impossible."

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III: "We have done the impossible."

As the evening wound up, the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, senior pastor of Charity Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, mounted the pulpit and told the rally: 

"In four years we have done the impossible. We did it with people who knew that the impossible could happen if the people showed up....What we are about to do is what I prayed we do the first time we came to the [Nehemiah] Action: To hit the issue head on - racism should be made an outlaw in Charleston."

TOM GRUBISICH

Beyond Catfish Row talked with a CAJM organizer about the Ministry's recent string of accomplishments in its direct-action initiatives to end racism in Charleston, and what it will be doing as move moves forward from the April 18 Nehemiah Action. CAJM doesn't like to single out organizers, so we're not identifying whom we interviewed for this Q & A:

CAJM's School-Based Arrests and PBIS and Restorative Justice Committee met last week with the Charleston County School District's Strategic Education Committee on the high rate of minority student arrests and suspensions. What was the result of that meeting? Are you encouraged?
CAJM's committee made a 15-minute presentation on PBIS [Positive Behavior Interventions and Support] and Restorative Justice as best practices to reduce student suspensions and arrests. The county school district had committed to implement Restorative Justice in five schools back at the Nehemiah Action in 2014, and to date it is only being used in one school. With over 50 CAJM members present, we reminded School Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, as well as school-board members, about their public commitment. With over 1,000 arrests occurring in school over the past year and a half, and with black youth representing 85% of those arrests (even though they only represent 42% of CCSD's collective student body), our students and our community don't have time to wait any longer. We were absolutely encouraged by the meeting and expect firm steps forward in the coming weeks, but know we must continue to pay attention and hold our school district accountable for the commitments they have made. 

CAJM's 2016 strategy is putting a focus on police stopping motorists for minor infractions. You have detailed widely disparate numbers of police stops of blacks in proportion to the percentage of the population in Charleston, North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant. CAJM says it cannot accept these numbers. What do you doing in response?
In November of 2015, over 600 CAJM members gathered together and collectively voted to address "Racial Discrimination" in our community. The stories from our listening process led leaders to immediately narrow that topic to "Racial Discrimination in Police Practices," and more specifically, investigatory stops. These are stops which occur for usually minor things (i.e. the frame around the license plate covers the words "South Carolina," the tag light is too dim, the window tint is too dark, etc.) with the intent by the officer being to "investigate" further, with the hopes of identifying a more egregious potential crime, such as drugs, an outstanding warrant or an unlicensed weapon. North Charleston an Charleston lead the state in the number of stops that do not result in a citation or an arrest (a common sign of high levels of "fishing") and the racial disparity is very wide (for example, North Charleston's population is 47% African American, yet African Americans make up 65% of these stops). CAJM recognizes the need to address the policy and practice of investigatory stops, while also addressing the deeper problem of eroded community trust and a lack of transparency and accountability within our law enforcement agencies. In both North Charleston and Charleston, we will ask for a change in when and how investigatory stops are used, and we will advocate for the establishment of an independent and external police auditor's office in our community. This office would have total and unfettered access to data and personnel, would produce regular public reports on their findings in regards to auditing policy and practices, and would be overseen by a board of citizens representative of the local community. This is proven to increase transparency and accountability as well as build trust with the community. Just as important, increased trust also increases our police officers' capacity to do their jobs effectively and safely. Both our community and our law enforcement officers deserve better policing practices. 

Members of congregations in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry at Mount Moriah Baptist rally Monday night to prepare for April 18 Nehemiah Action to be held at the North Charleston church.

Members of congregations in the Charleston Area Justice Ministry at Mount Moriah Baptist rally Monday night to prepare for April 18 Nehemiah Action to be held at the North Charleston church.

Mayor Tecklenburg will attend your April 18 Nehemiah Action. What's the significance of that? What will the Mayor's attendance mean for the Nehemiah Action, especially shaping what goes forward?
While I can't speak to Mayor Tecklenburg's personal motivations, we believe that he committed to attend because he recognizes how many people the Charleston Area Justice Ministry represents. He spoke of addressing community-police relations during his campaign and after the election, and we believe he can be a strong leader in this area. There is always an expectation for public officials to attend the Nehemiah Action. There is nowhere else such a large group of citizens' gathers to address serious community issues. The attendance of elected and appointed officials at Nehemiah Actions demonstrates a commitment to their constituents as public servants. 

How many congregations are part of CAJM? What indicators do you see of your progress in fighting for social justice through a strategy of direct action?
We now have 30 covenanted member congregations and organizations (the YWCA officially covenanted recently), and we expect to have three to four additional congregations covenant before the end of summer. We have a proven track record of gaining commitments from public officials to move forward on addressing serious community problems as well as a record of good follow-up to ensure our public officials fulfill their commitments. More individuals than ever are committing to be a part of the Justice Ministry and that is mirrored in the financial ownership that individuals and congregations/organizations have over the work of their Justice Ministry. 

College of Charleston 'must build trust with black communities in state'

Beyond Catfish Row wanted to find out more about the shockingly revealing exhibit "The Struggle for Integration at the College of Charleston, 1943-2015," which is on display in the first-floor rotunda of the College's Addlestone Library through March. So we went to Dr. Mari N. Crabtree, Assistant Professor of African American Studies, who put it together with strong support from within the College. Here's our Q & A with Crabtree:

Was there any one moment or event that prompted you to want to do what the exhibit became?
During our annual planning meeting last May, the African American Studies Program decided that we would like to put together an exhibit about African American history at the College of Charleston for Black History Month. Since, as a historian, I work in archives regularly, I elected to research and curate the exhibit. I did some preliminary research on potential topics from slavery at the College to the racial geography of the campus, but eventually I settled on desegregation because the archival sources on campus were so rich. The ultimate purpose of the exhibit is to raise questions about the College's institutional culture, and this issue seemed particularly pressing given several high-profile cases of racial violence in Charleston during the past year or so.

Dr. Mari N. Crabtree, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at College of Charleston and architect of the Addlestone exhibit.

Dr. Mari N. Crabtree, Assistant Professor of African American Studies at College of Charleston and architect of the Addlestone exhibit.

Did the College cooperate with your project?
In a word, yes. The College's Library, especially the staff at Special Collections and the Avery Research Center, provided research and administrative assistance at every stage of the project, and the African American Studies Program and the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs (of which AAST is a part) provided the funding necessary to cover printing costs for the exhibit. I also received research assistance from a graduate student in the History Department, Taylor Matthews, and colleagues around campus provided insightful feedback on a draft of the exhibit.

Has the College ever formally apologized for its long resistance to and legal battle against desegregation?
As far as I know, the College (i.e. the Trustees and/or President) has not formally apologized, although in 2008 the College commemorated the desegregation of the College. The President at the time, George Benson, expressed regret about the College's refusal to desegregate until 1966. 

What kind of reactions are you getting or hearing about from faculty, students - both white and black - and the general public?
I have only received very positive reactions thus far, including several requests for copies of the exhibit. A digital version of the exhibit will be published by the College's Lowcountry Digital History Initiative in the fall, so the information in the exhibit will be publicly and permanently accessible in a few months.

What was your personal reaction to all the evidence you assembled showing the College's determination to fight desegregation even in the midst of the contemporaneous "Charleston Movement' for racial equality?
I specialize in African American history after 1865, and my book manuscript examines collective memories of lynching during the Civil Rights era. Given my research and teaching expertise, I can't say I was terribly surprised by the College's response to integration attempts. Resistance to racial justice has been a constant in American history, most especially in the South, and despite the supposedly genteel reputation of Charleston, the city has a particularly brutal history of racial oppression. After all, Charleston was the entry point for so many enslaved Africans into the Americas, and the economic foundations of South Carolina and the United States more broadly are rooted in the exploitation of black labor. However, just because I was not surprised by this history does not mean I found the College's response any less horrifying. I found it deeply disturbing to read a memo in which the former President of the college that employs me said, "I do not agree that we should send application blanks to those persons whom we know to be Negroes, because we know that we will refuse such persons admission even though academically qualified. ... I am impelled to say that I simply cannot, in good conscience, have any part in admitting other than white students into an institution for which I am responsible..." Rather than allowing despair to turn into inaction, though, I see this history as a means to generate important conversations on campus about the kind of institution we want to be, and, of course, a means to enact concrete policies that rectify this history of exclusion and white supremacy.

The College today is integrated, but, as your exhibit points out, blacks are only a fraction of their percentage of the state population. What do you think the College should do to increase its black enrollment?
I want to begin by clarifying the distinction between "integration" and "desegregation." Typically, school "desegregation" refers to the enrollment of students of color into what had been white institutions. "Integration," however, implies a deeper change to the institutional culture of a school. Rather than expecting African American students, for instance, to adapt to the existing (white) institutional culture, those who advocate for "integration" seek a fundamental change that does not privilege or render normative the dominant (white) culture. So, as far as I am concerned, the College has been desegregated for decades but still has work to do before the campus achieves integration. As for specific policies and strategies for attracting and retaining African American students, a multi-pronged approach will be necessary. First, the College must build trust with African American communities around the state, but especially in Charleston. Many African Americans who grew up in the East Side neighborhood during Jim Crow still recall the sting of avoiding the campus as they walked to school because the College was such a racially hostile space for them. An honest reckoning with that past of exclusion and hostility is a start, but also the College needs to actively recruit students of color (African American, Latino, Asian American, etc.) and provide sufficient support for those students once they get to campus. Programs like SPECTRA and ROAR that are intended to assist students of color in adjusting to the campus culture and coursework at the college level have been shrinking rather than growing. Another issue on campus is retention. So many students of color leave the college before graduating, and social support and academic support through advising are necessary for students to thrive on campus and to graduate on time. Certain programs on campus, like African American Studies and the Avery Research Center, make an effort to reach out to the African American community when we sponsor public events, but I think the College could do even more to make this public institution more welcoming to all members of the public.

Looking at the College today,  do you see a new spirit for racial equality that encourages you?
I think many members of the campus community seem genuinely invested in changing the institutional culture of the College. Enthusiasm and interest alone are not sufficient for bringing out substantive change. Frank conversations about the College's history and the history of white supremacy in the United States, not just in African American Studies courses but across campus, would be a start. Also, orientation programs often set the tone for incoming students, so college-wide programs like orientation would be a good forum for raising awareness of the intersections between racism, misogyny, classism, etc. A sustained dialogue is ultimately going to be necessary, though. Every semester, faculty, students, staff and administrators plan workshops, lectures, film screenings, teach-ins,and performances that broach the subject of race and power, but often these events attract audiences who tend to be aware of these issues already. To some extent, the problem is publicity, but also many of the people who would benefit the most from attending these events (or taking African American Studies courses) choose not to attend. That being said, I have been truly inspired by many of my students who work on and off campus, inside and outside of the classroom, to address social justice issues. This semester alone, I have students who spent spring break conducting research with the ACLU in a court-watching project and others who ran workshops about creating a more socially aware student body. Many of my students are active in local (and national, in some cases) civil rights organizing, and after graduation they want to pursue careers that allow them to address social justice issues. I see great potential on this campus, but potential alone is not enough.

 

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.

* * *

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

 

Charleston and racial equality: How it rates with 8 other regions

By Tom Grubisich

Metro Charleston has greater racial disparities than exist in any of the eight regions it's being benchmarked against in a survey designed to measure Charleston's global economic competitiveness.

The survey's executive summary says metro Charleston "has the greatest discrepancies in most measures" when it is compared to Greenville, Raleigh, Richmond, Jacksonville, Fla., Nashville, Austin, Salt Lake City and Seattle - eight cities and regions with which it shares key similarities.

The summary says this about racial disparities in Charleston:

"African American household incomes are lower as a percentage of White income than in any other benchmark region. Similarly, earnings and educational attainment in the Charleston region are lowest when compared to other benchmark regions. Furthermore, these gaps extend beyond racial and ethnic differences. During the past five years, for example, the median wage for the top half of earners increased by more than 5 times the rate of wages for the bottom half of earners."

The survey is part of the "One Region" initiative sponsored by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance to forge more on-the-ground, operational collaboration among the jurisdictionally independent communities comprising Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties. More meaningful regional collaboration, say the sponsors, " will further enhance the economy through advancements in talent, infrastructure and other assets characteristic of a globally competitive metro; an investment in the community for a robust and stable economy for many years to come."

The full report on One Region's survey will come out in May.

In the survey summary, Charleston did much better on gender than racial equality and equity compared to its benchmark communities. For example, female household income is higher relative to male household income than in "virtually every other benchmark region."

Besides looking at the region's performance in achieving equality and equity, the One Region survey is examining greater Charleston pluses and minuses in affordability, quality of place, infrastructure, talent, innovation and entrepreneurship, global fluency and "economic momentum."

The One Region strategy that will be developed from the survey will succeed  the Opportunity Next strategy that has been the region's template for economic development over the past five years.

The One Region strategy will have larger implications because its eight "community dynamics" go beyond the narrower baseline of Opportunity Next, which focused on job creation and product development. This earlier post on Beyond Catfish Row explored the implications of the broader canvas for regional economic development.

Equality and equity - one of those dynamics - is getting increasing attention nationally as metropolitan regions like Charleston confront the mixed results of their often-ambitious plans for economic development.

In her "Remaking Economic Development" report last month, Amy Liu, Vice President and Director of the Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program, emphasized the need for inclusion - beginning with race, ethnicity and gender but extending into other areas - to be fully integrated into regional economic development. She said: "Leaders in cities and metro areas have an opportunity to remake economic development - to adopt a broader vision of economic development that can deliver continuous growth, prosperity, and inclusion in cities and metro areas." Her report details the failures and promising responses from region to region. 

Liu didn't cite Charleston in her examples, but, as the One Region survey shows, this region has a number of equality and equity issues waiting to be addressed more directly.

Assisting the Charleston Metro Chamber and Charleston Regional Development Alliance in developing the One Region strategy are Avalanche Consulting of Austin and McCallum Sweeney Consulting of Greenville.

The planning process is being guided by an 80-member advisory group including a diverse leadership from the public and private sectors, nonprofits and educational organizations.

 

How Charleston schools are resetting response to racial reading gap

The "brutal facts" of the wide gap in reading proficiency between black and white students in the Charleston County School District are producing an encouraging new response from within the system.

Teaching reading is a challenge in virtually any classroom at any level. But it's very challenging when the learners are in low-income families, and it's most challenging when they are trapped in inter-generational poverty. Most of the Charleston school system's black students are in low-income families, and many of those children are in families beset by inter-generational poverty.

The good news is that the right teaching can produce proficient readers, whatever the learners' economic circumstances. There are no excuses.

Here's how the Charleston system is ratcheting up its response to its persistent racial reading gaps, as outlined to me by the overall leader of the effort, Dr. Valerie E. Harrison, the recently appointed interim Chief Academic Officer of CCSD:

Dr. Valerie E. Harrison, new interim Chief Academic Officer in Charleston school system.

Dr. Valerie E. Harrison, new interim Chief Academic Officer in Charleston school system.

"For the past several months, a Read to Succeed Task Force has worked diligently on the development of our newly established, state-mandated Read to Succeed Plan. While the law (Act 284) requires 90 minutes of reading and writing instruction per day in the elementary grades, CCSD provides 120 minutes.

"During this time in our regular classrooms, more intentional focus will be provided on the following, with data being used to organize students for small group and individualized instruction:

  • In Prekindergarten and Kindergarten, there will be a stronger, intentional emphasis on oral language, vocabulary development and guided reading (in Kindergarten), all of which are essential in development of comprehension skills.
  • In grades 1, 2 and 3, guided reading will continue to be a priority, along with explicit phonics, vocabulary instruction, and responding to text.
  • In grades 4 and 5, comprehension will be stressed through responding to text and book clubs.  For students most in need of interventions, at least 30 additional minutes of interventions will continue to be provided daily through a pullout model. While the district has utilized a pullout model for grades 1-3 and 6-8, next year will be the first time we have used a pullout approach in grades 4-5 for extra support.
  • We will strengthen the use of a balanced literacy approach in our classrooms with a focus on improving comprehension.
  • Reading coaches will continue to serve in Title I elementary schools, and will, also, be supported by part-time Title I coaches who will provide additional support in Grades 4-5.

"Our past intervention focus in CCSD has been on serving students in grades 1-3 and 6-8 who were at or below the 25th percentile. Our intervention focus for the 2016- 2017 school year will now include students up through the 40th percentile, which should have a great impact on the proficiency of students as measured by state and national assessments.

"Finally, we are investigating some blended learning opportunities for students. While we do not know yet if funding will be made available, we are examining options that are evidence-based and focus on phonics and comprehension, both of which you referenced."

Harrison comes to CCSD from predominantly black Claflin University in Orangeburg - her hometown - where she was dean of the School of Education. But she has an extensive background in PK-12 education, including working with the families of students.

CCSD Superintendent Dr. Gerrita Postlewait -- author of the Feb. 22 "brutal facts" review of student achievement in the county system -- said this about Harrison when she announced her appointment: "As the interim Chief Academic Officer, I am confident her extensive experience and passion for educating all youth will make a significant impact; her expertise will immediately assist us in reaching our goals."

There's accumulating evidence that any student, regardless of his/her family-community-economic circumstances, can become a proficient reader. The ability to read with fluency and comperhension is the foundation of all learning, the best predictor of success in career and college, years of research consistently shows. It will take some time to tell whether the new and expanded reading instruction and support that Harrison spells out here works. It can't be said to often that reading - teaching it and learning it - is hard. But when you look at Harrison's credentials and her determination, and Postlewait's public pledge to a new, communitywide educational culture that meets the needs of all students, I think we should be encouraged.

TOM GRUBISICH

Students who can't read at grade level are majority at mostly black schools

by Tom Grubisich

A majority of classroom seats in predominantly black schools in Charleston County are occupied by students who can't read at grade level. If the system keeps failing these students., they're likely to pay a heavy price later in their job careers, including what they earn.

The Charleston school district calls reading one of its "Top Five Priorities." The district has consistently maintained it was making progress developing a "world-class" system in improving its reading instruction and offering special help to its most struggling readers. A team of CCSD reading specialists gave a  conference report in 2014 headed "Reading Recovery Is Alive and Well in Charleston County Schools."

As recently as January 2015, the system delivered an upbeat report to the school board on progress it said it was making in an array of reading programs, including work with at-risk readers. But within months of that report, the facade of success began to crumble when tougher new state tests given to students in grades 3 through 8 in the spring of 2015 showed that reading instruction and remedial help were falling far short of targets.

The big gap between what the system was reporting - based on low state norming of performance standards - and what was actually happening is shown in this chart produced by Beyond Catfish Row:

 

Analysis by Beyond Catfish Row reveals the school-by-school failure in Reading,  with mostly black schools being hit the hardest. The bleak performances can be seen in this chart for the school district's elementary level and this one for the middle level.

The numbers in those charts align with what new Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait, in a Feb. 22 report, called the "brutal facts" about the county system's failures in Reading and other subjects. Postlewait said "public education in our region, state and nation [is] failing to serve Black, Hispanic and lower-income children" and proposed 16 new or expanded efforts to end the disparities.

Beyond Catfish Row research shows that there are far more readers below grade level at predominantly black schools than mostly white ones. This chart shows the wide gap:

 

The extent of racial disparities in reading performance in predominantly white and black elementary schools is shown in this school-by-school scatter-plot chart produced by Ted Legasey, Chairman of Charleston Promise Neighborhood, which serves The Neck's low-income communities, with this author, Tom Grubisich.

The extensive shortcomings in reading performance is not only hurting mostly black students who number in the thousands but depriving the Charleston region of the additional human capital it needs to be more competitive in creating higher-level jobs to serve a global economy. Postlewait makes this point in her Feb. 22 report. Beyond Catfish Row reported on this dimension of the problem in January.

The national predicament is detailed in this new report by Amy Liu, Director of the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program in Washington, DC. Liu says:: "A large body of research shows that persistent intra-regional disparities, racial and economic segregation, and low-density sprawl can drag down a region’s overall economic potential and widen inequality." While Liu does not cite Charleston, this region has many of the racial and economic disparities that she says impede success in economic development at the city and regional levels.

There is broad agreement by educational researchers that reading underpins all learning, from the earliest pre-K years through all grades in elementary, middle and high schools. CCSD says in its "Vision 2016" goals statement:

"Literacy is the foundation of all learning

"A student's ability to read, write, speak and think critically is critical to the development of other skills - and to providing a foundation for success in the 20th Century. We will ensure all students have a strong foundation of literacy skills by the time they leave 3rd grade and our overall approach to learning - across all subjects and grades - will emphasize and reinforce literacy."

Some new research into reading maintains that it is not a "natural" process. Australian literacy researcher Lorraine Hammond, a critics of popular programs like Reading Recovery - which is part of the Charleston system's literacy programs - wrote last year:

"Mainstream early literacy teaching and Reading Recovery are both still grounded in the idea that reading is a natural process, and that children learn merely via exposure to print. However, we now know that is not the case. Reading is a complex, learnt skill."

Reading Partners, which uses community volunteers to work with students, is one of the Charleston school system's programs.

Reading Partners, which uses community volunteers to work with students, is one of the Charleston school system's programs.

In her Feb. 22 report, CCSD Superintendent Postlewait did not go into detail about which reading programs would be emphasized in raising the thousands of students who are below level, in many cases the at-risk level.

What will be key to any new programs will be adequate monitoring to make sure that what's being taught in the classroom and in the "Reading Academies" for at-risk students is producing evidence-based results. Effective monitoring begins with periodic assessments that are normed to national test performances, not South Carolina's historically lower standards.

The 2015 ACT Aspire assessment proved to be an eye opener because it was nationally normed against performances at schools in states around the country. The state is now in the process of replacing ACT Aspire with a new assessment called SC Ready. Under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act - which replaced No Child Left Behind legislation -  South Carolina and other states have more freedom in how they can calibrate what constitutes successful student performance in assessment testing.

Postlewait said in her report that real progress in reading needs monitoring based on national norming of performance standards. So does Melanie Barton, Executive Director of the state Education Oversight Committee. But exactly how rigorous the new SC Ready assessment system proves to be will depend on give and take involving a variety of local and state education stakeholders in coming months. Whatever consensus is reached haa to be accepted by Barton's EOC.

What those stakeholders decide on may be crucial to whether thousands of below-level readers in the Charleston system - most of them black - receive the instruction they need to be ready to advance into fulfilling careers and jobs.

 

 

Marian Wright Edelman on 2016 elections: 'Democracy is not a spectator sport'

On Tuesday, the evening of March 1, Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund, was the first to speak in a three-part series hosted by the College of Charleston, the Race and Social Justice Initiative

Edelman started slowly with tales of her childhood, like once having her bedtime story read by Langston Hughes and: "The only time daddy wouldn't give us a chores was when we were reading, so we read a lot." 

Worked her way through altruisms: "We don't need to be big dogs, we need to be strategic fleas." 

Then focused on her passion: children. She noted that more money is put into the prison system than schools, and said, "That's about the dumbest investment possible." This was one of the several times the racially and generationally diverse audience almost as a whole stood up to applaud Edelman's truths. 

During the Q&A part of the evening, Edelman was, of course, asked about 2016's election season, because Hillary Clinton got her start in advocacy in the Children's Defense Fund, where she helped ensure the nonprofit's motto, which is “To ensure every child a healthy start, a head start, a fair start, a safe start, and a moral start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.”

Earlier, Edelman had said, "Democracy is not a spectator sport," and she was as tactful in her response about the nominees: "Look at what they say and look at their records, then decide for yourself."

The Race and Social Justice Initiative, sponsored by the College of Charleston with support from Google, continues on March 31 with Bryan Stevenson, Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and on Oct. 18 with Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic magazine national correspondent and author of the recently published "Between the World and Me," a series of letters to his teenage son. 

ELIZABETH BOWERS

John C. Calhoun under the horns of a dilemma

As Beyond Catfish Row contributor Elizabeth Bowers was preparing go to the Sottile Theater last night to hear civil rights matriarch and children's advocate Marian Wright Edelman give a talk, her eye caught a sight in Marion Square that some people might call providential. What she saw was this:

Credit: Elizabeth Bowers (with her iPhone 5 at about 6 p.m. yesterday). 

Credit: Elizabeth Bowers (with her iPhone 5 at about 6 p.m. yesterday). 

Bowers' account of the moment: "I quickly pulled out my phone and hoped the birds wouldn't fly off before I got the photo. It was a good sign before heading in to hear Marian Wright Edelman."

 

'We have to stand with each other, lift each other up'

Hillary Clinton during her victory speech in Columbia after last Saturday's Democratic presidential primary results came in.

Hillary Clinton during her victory speech in Columbia after last Saturday's Democratic presidential primary results came in.

We live in a time of tweets...and caws. But last Saturday night in Columbia, as Hillary Clinton addressed workers and supporters at her victory celebration, it was a time for old-fashioned, uplifting oratory. She obliquely rebuked the increasingly likely Republican presidential nominee, but instead of dwelling on the sting, she expertly pivoted back to being positive about meeting the nation's challenges: "We don't need to make America great again. America has never stopped being great.....But we do need to make America whole again."

For her message about moving forward, against "systemic racism" and other barriers, she got help from one of the greatest preachers, the author of 1 Corinthians 13: 

"Love never fails. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

She concluded in her own words and cadences::

" I know it sometimes seems a little odd for someone running for President in these days and this time to say we need  more love and kindness in America. But I'm telling you from the bottom of my heart we do, we do. We have so much to look forward to. There's no doubt in my mind that America's best years can be ahead of us. We have to believe that. We've got to work for that. We have to stand with each other. We have to hold each other up, lift each other up, move together in the future we make."

Presidential campaigns, we know, can bring out the worst in the combatants, as the 2016 primary goings on have shown us many times over. But what was said in Columbia Saturday night suggests we are in for better moments too. And maybe enduring ones.

TOM GRUBISICH

 

 

 

Memminger School, tugged by its past, reaches toward a brighter future

by Tom Grubisich

So much of the history of public education in Charleston including some of the darkest times unfolded at 20 Beaufain St. on the edge of downtown. But it's hard to think about that history when you look at the sleek and airy new complex at No. 20  the home of Memminger Elementary School.

The walled garden is a gracious bow to Memminger's 19th-century past, but the grand, multi-winged building that extends along Beaufain speaks to the future of Memminger when it could become a school where students of all races learn and develop together in the same classrooms.

Twice in the past 53 years, the future looked as if it was within Memminger's grasp. But both times the past won out.

The first time was in 1963 when, as a segregated white school, Memminger was ordered to desegregate in compliance with the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The nine-year delay resulted from the Charleston County School Board's legal fight against implementation of the High Court's decision. On the first day of desegregation, angry white students shouted at the newly arriving black students that they would be poisoned when they went to the cafeteria for lunch. In subsequent years, in the face of continuing white flight from the county's newly desegregated schools, Memminger became a predominantly black institution with an enrollment so shrunken it faced closure.

Memminger's second encounter with its future in the mid-1970s occurred in circumstances that initially looked more hopeful. In a bold reach toward racial diversity, the school sought to recruit more students, especially whites, through an enriched curriculum, developed with the faculty of the College of Charleston, that was billed as a national model. Expectations were so high prior to the scheduled launch in the 1977-78 academic year that Memminger drew many additional student signups from both races. But when the school reached out to students from well beyond its attendance zone, the county school board resisted, saying all the transfers would result in administrative chaos. 

In the ensuing legal imbroglio that continued until 1994, the school board prevailed, although the ruling judge acknowledged that Memminger's aborted curriculum initiative was "ahead of its time." But by then the model school had been long abandoned and Memminger had reverted to being a mostly black school in the middle of a racially mixed neighborhood. Once again, the past prevailed over the future.

New and Favorable Circumstances

Now Memminger is reaching for the high bar a third time, and new and favorable circumstances indicate it has a better chance to succeed.

To achieve racial diversity and academic excellence, Memminger is offering a cluster of benefits to current and potential students and their parents:

  • The stunning, $22 million school plant that opened in 2013.
  • Early-education classes for 3- and 4-year-olds that could save parents $500 and more monthly for care they now pay at private facilities.
  • The prospect of International Baccalaureate certification that would create a rigorous, world-class curriculum geared to give elementary-age students, including minorities, what they need early on to prepare for college and career.

International Baccalaureate certification may be the biggest benefit of all. It has the potential of pulling Memminger out of its past and taking it into a future that might be even brighter than what slipped from the school's grasp in 1963 and the mid-1970s.

Memminger first sought to introduce an IB program in 2008, but the county school board didn't back the move because board members were split on whether the program would be too demanding for some students and create a new layer of inequality.

The upshot was that Memminger got a compromise "global studies" program that had some, mostly superficial elements of the more detailed IB Primary Years Program, and was not integrated into the curriculum as planned. Parental dissatisfaction with the result of the compromise revived consideration of IB. In 2013 the school board, with downtown member Todd Garret being a strong advocate, relented and gave Memminger authorization to introduce a full-scale IB Primary Years Program. Under the PYP, students get engaged with "big ideas" their own and other students' that leap among and beyond standard curriculum subjects. In a way, the classrooms  at Memminger can become microcosms of the global world where there are 3,700 IB schools in 145 countries with more than a million students.

Memminger Parent Advocate Darcell White and Student Support Specialist Raymond Nelson with third-grade students Thomas McWhite, Jaycee West and Tzion Camera.

Memminger Parent Advocate Darcell White and Student Support Specialist Raymond Nelson with third-grade students Thomas McWhite, Jaycee West and Tzion Camera.

Since the 2013-2014 school year, Memminger has been gradually integrating the IB way of teaching and learning throughout the 70,000 square feet of its school. "Yes, we have been implementing the IB framework schoolwide for all students within our school's 'Program of Inquiry,'" says Katherine Houser, who manages the program. "All teachers have been trained in the Primary Years Program."

IB seeking out low-income schools

The 48-year-old IB, which is governed and managed by a Swiss-based nonprofit foundation, used to have an elite image. But in recent years IB has actively pursued relationships with Title I (high-poverty) schools like Memminger. By the 2012-13 school year, 60% of all U.S. schools with IB programs were Title I.

IB cites numbers that it says shows how it can transform poorly performing low-income schools with predominantly minority enrollments. For example, IB says, 79% of graduates of its Diploma Program at U.S. high schools go on to college just a few percentage points below the 82% percent college enrollment among students at high schools in general.

IB seeks to create, especially in often-stigmatized low-income schools, a culture that permeates the lives of students "learners," as they're called. At Memminger, for example, IB learning begins with "inquiry, which IB defines this way: "We nurture our curiosity, developing skills for inquiry and research. We know how to learn independently and with others. We learn with enthusiasm and sustain our love of learning throughout life."

IB promotes a spirit of collaboration that shows up prominently in how teachers relate to each other as well as their students. Teachers plan lessons together and meet regularly to fine-tune lessons and share tips on how to help students who have hit a learning wall.

‘Teaching to the test’ does not appear to be part of IB’s modus operandi.

Collaboration helps motivate teachers to try new ideas, especially ones that might be challenged by a cautious administrative bureaucracy. "Teaching to the test" which U.S. teachers says has subverted meaningful learning does not appear to be part of the IB modus operandi.

In its quiet way, without any Michelle Rhee-like reformist rhetoric, IB is an agent of change in public education in America. How well IB initiatives at Memminger are received in the bureaucracy of the Charleston County School District and by the ruling and elected school board will depend to a large degree on how successful the school is academically.

Exactly what kind of impact IB will have at Memminger among its 324 students, most of whom are black and from low-income homes, will start showing up after the state administers its new SC Ready assessment tests this spring and then grades schools based on test scores.

Considering its current performance baseline, Memminger can go mostly in only one direction: up. In 2012 and 2013, it received an "At-Risk" report card from the state. It went up one notch to "Below Average" in 2014. The state didn't rate schools last year, when it used the tough ACT Aspire assessments for 3rd, 4th and 5th grades, and then quickly dropped those tests and chose a new assessment system SC Ready.

‘The bar has to be set at a level to guarantee that students will graduate college- and career-ready.’

The state doesn't yet know how tough the SC Ready assessments will be compared to the one-year ACT Aspire tests. But Melanie Barton, Executive Director of the independent, nonpartisan state Education Oversight Committee, says: “The bar has to be set at a level to guarantee that students will graduate college -and career-ready.”

Memminger's 3rd-through-5th-grade ACT Aspire tests results were both good and bad news. The bad news was that English, Reading, Writing and Math scores for those grades were below those for other Charleston schools, statewide schools and "schools with students like ours." Memminger students' Reading scores were the lowest, with barely 8% of the test takers scoring "Ready."  The good news was that in English, Writing and Math, disproportionately large numbers of Memminger students scored in the "Close" category, which is between "Ready" and "In Need of Support."

The big questions are, 1) will the school's IB Primary Years Program help many students at the Close level in English, Writing and Math rise to Ready and 2) lift up the 74% who are "In Need of Support" in "Reading"? The staff at Memminger, beginning with Principal Abigail D. Woods, believes that PYP can and will. At county school district headquarters, Erica Taylor, Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, says improvements are a must. She told me: "Current scores on the ACT are a reflection of the change needed at Memminger from the "At-Risk" results [in 2012 and 2013]."

 

A counselor and students in the "Kaleidoscope" after-school program at Memminger. Kaleidoscope is a Charleston County School District initiative that serves 4,000 students in 45 elementary schools by offering the youngsters a meal, structured activities and a safe environment while their parents are at work.

A counselor and students in the "Kaleidoscope" after-school program at Memminger. Kaleidoscope is a Charleston County School District initiative that serves 4,000 students in 45 elementary schools by offering the youngsters a meal, structured activities and a safe environment while their parents are at work.

IB program manager Houser is confident that the Primary Years Program will transform student learning. She says it's already happening: “Our students are showing increases in academic performance in both Math and English Language Arts on the Measures of Academic Progress. They have also demonstrated social and emotional learning...In addition, Memminger students and faculty have demonstrated improvements in all areas of the Personalized Learning framework, which support the IB philosophy of student directed learning and innovation.”

The PYP has a number of teacher resources that are geared to reading instruction and intervention at the elementary school level.

Memminger is in its third test year with PYP. If it's certified  which could occur as early as September of this year – it will become an IB World School.

* * *

With most of its students from low-income homes, Memminger's support team is a critical component of the staff as the school moves toward IB certification. Meet team members Raymond Nelson and Darcell White:

Nelson has a double commitment to Memminger and its students, because he is a Student Support Specialist and also a graduate of the school. When students don't do their homework, Nelson will find out why. "In one case, the boy's mother couldn't pay the electric bill, so he didn't have a light to study," he says. He sees students who freeze up in preparation for standardized tests. "I see straight-A students who are so nervous they can't write a complete sentence." His job is to help calm them down. "I can make a difference," he says.

Parent Advocate White says many of Memminger's 324 children live at the Robert Mills Manor public housing project three blocks away. The head of many of the households at Robert Mills is a single mother. "Many of them work at two or three jobs," White says. "But they have to be careful. If they make too much money, they'll lose their [subsidized] apartment and Medicaid." She also offers one reason for the relative absence of men at the project: "There are fathers who are incarcerated." She is trying to organize a group of employers who will hire the men to do jobs with more opportunities when they're released. "Right now, if they've been out even five or six years, about the only job they can get is as a short-order cook."

White, a former Charleston police officer who grew up in a single-mother household in Pittsburgh, is optimistic about the parents of the children at Memminger. We have the resources here to help them. We just have to meet them at their level."

 

Why Clinton should win big against Sanders in S.C. primary

The issue in South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary is not who will win, but how significant of a victory Hillary Clinton can roll up against Bernie Sanders. The most recent Monmouth University poll (Feb. 14-16) of likely voters has numbers that point toward an impressive Clinton victory.

Major clues are in how the poll tallies attitudes among likely voters toward the two candidates on black issues.  The results show that likely voters whatever their race or ethnicity  see Clinton as being far more effective than Sanders. Here's how Beyond Catfish Row charted the Monmouth numbers (first two questions):

Another major clue is the magnitude by which likely black voters trust Clinton more than Sanders on issues that most concern them (third question). The trust numbers favoring Clinton so widely are important because blacks are expected to be the racial majority among primary voters.

Add to these survey numbers the key endorsements that Clinton has received – from Rep. James E. Clyburn, the South Carolinian who is the assistant Democratic leader in Congress, and Civil Rights Movement icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, plus the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus and it looks as if Clinton has a lead over Sanders that is unapproachable.

In recent weeks, Clinton has spoken with eloquent directness about racial inequality. What she said about "systemic racism" in her Feb. 16 address in Harlem and her victory speech after the Democratic caucuses in Nevada last Saturday are making the controversy about her email use while Secretary of State look less flammable.

TOM GRUBISICH

 

For hungry kids, Chefs' Feast raises $160,000 in Convention Center tasting

The 17th annual Chefs' Feast drew 800 to 900 people to the Charleston Area Convention Center Sunday night and raised an estimated $160,000 to provide breakfast and lunch during the year for 9,000 children who would otherwise go hungry.

Some of the 34 chefs who prepared signature dishes from their restaurants for the evening take their bow.

Some of the 34 chefs who prepared signature dishes from their restaurants for the evening take their bow.

"This is the simple reality," Lowcountry Food Bank President and CEO Pat Walker told the crowd. "Every time you make magic happen, you change the lives of families in the Lowcountry....Thank you for continuing to make magic happen."

Pat Walker, President and CEO of Lowcountry Food Bank.

Pat Walker, President and CEO of Lowcountry Food Bank.

During the evening, guests sampled such dishes as Sweet Grass Mussels, Pork Belly, Bourbon and Beef Broth, Chowder Pea Succotash, Toast Point from Matthew Paul, chef of the Lowcountry Bistro, Beef Short Rib in Red Chlle Mole With Creamy Grits from Ben Berryhill of Red Drum,  Assorted Chocolates from David Vagasky and Mark Gray of Cacao's Artisan Chocolates and 31 other participating chefs and their restaurants.

Walker told the audience that one in four children in the Lowcountry experiences hunger. The Lowcountry Food Bank, which produces Chefs' Feast, collects and distributes donated food to nearly 300 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters in 10 coastal counties that provide meals for 200,000 people annually.

Every dollar contributed results in six meals for families, children and seniors served by the Food Bank. To get involved, call the Food Bank's Volunteer Manager at 843-747-8146, ext. 120, or visit the website at lowcountryfood.org.

The presenting sponsor for Chefs' Feast was the City of North Charleston.

Many of the festive tables were filled with staff and friends of event sponsors, which were Boeing, Harris Teeter, Hendrick Automotive, Paul Hulsey Law Group, Limehouse Produce, Morgan Stanley, Mungo Homes, Omatic Software, Post and Courier, Roper St. Francis Hospital, Snyder Events, South Carolina Federal Credit Union and Walmart. 

TOM GRUBISICH

 

Clyburn endorsement strengthens Clinton advantage over Sanders

Veteran South Carolina Rep. James E. Clyburn jumped off the fence today and gave his unqualified support to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the state Democratic primary.

"My.heart has always been with Hillary Clinton, but my head had me in a neutral corner," he told a news conference in Columbia.

 

Rep. James E. Clyburn.

Rep. James E. Clyburn.

In 2008, Clyburn stayed neutral in Clinton's primary race against Barack Obama. Although the favorite to win, Clinton lost in a contest that gave Obama momentum that took him to his party's nomination and then on to the Presidency.

Clyburn's move today is likely to be enough to blunt Clinton's opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders' momentum, which earlier led him to a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses and then onto  a decisive  victory in the New Hampshire primary.

Earlier this month, Clinton picked up another major endorsement that had to make a strong impression on state Democrats, especially black ones poised to vote. She won the backing of Civil Rights Movement icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, who said he had known Clinton since the Movement days.

There is little likelihood that Sanders could beat Clinton in South Carolina. Clinton has fostered close relationships with the state's black population, and blacks will probably lead the racial turnout on primary day, Feb. 27. But if Sanders could run within 5 or 6 points of Clinton, or even closer, that would put him virtually head to head with her. But Clyburn's endorsement of Clinton appears to have eliminated that possible outcome.

 

Tightening state Democratic primary: A contest of a different color

At 3:10 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, a Secret Service guy pushed open the locked doors of the Memminger Auditorium from inside and told the lingering crowd hoping to get in, "The auditorium is filled to capacity. No one will be allowed in!"

Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders.

I arrived at the Memminger about two minutes after the scheduled 3 p.m. start of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders' town hall, and there were two lines of people waiting to get in. Most of them were white, and while the majority were college age and in their 20s, there were more than a few who were middle aged and older.

The Post and Courier Web article on the rally later Tuesday said the crowd inside was "predominantly white." Since I wasn't able to get in the Memminger, I couldn't see for myself. Charleston is 70% white, so it wasn't necessarily surprising that most of the rally participants were white.

It is true that Hillary Clinton, the odds-on favorite to win the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary, has strong connections with blacks in the Palmetto State.going back to the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. That's why Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who had his skull fractured when police attacked the peaceful voting-rights march he was helping to lead across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma 51 years ago, endorsed Clinton.

Lewis said he "never saw" Sanders on the Movement scene in those tempestuous days. Still, Sanders, as a college student, attended the March on Washington in August 1963, where Lewis, as chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, was a speaker and organizer.

Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton.

Clinton calls Sanders a "one-issue candidate" because of his incessant portrayal of an economically divided America where the super-rich 1% lord it over the poor and middle class. There are no racial dimensions to Sanders' basic argument. Clinton has been putting race into the foreground of her basic campaign messages, a move she hopes will prevent blacks -- in South Carolina and elsewhere -- from defecting to Sanders. 

She speaks forthrightly about America needing to "face up to the reality of systemic racism." But the Vermont senator's campaign site provides extensive details of his stand for racial justice and against what he calls physical, legal, political, economic and environmental violence.

Sanders has been making strong, headline-getting connections with the families of some of the victims of violence. During an earlier campaign appearance Tuesday at the University of South Carolina, he was introduced by Erica Garner, eldest daughter of Eric Garner, the New York City black who died on a shopping-center sidewalk in Staten Island in 2014 after he was put in a choke-hold by a city policeman following his arrest for selling  tobacco products without a license. Earlier in the campaign, Sanders received a change-of-mind endorsement from state Rep. Justin T. Bamberg, the attorney who has been representing the family of Walter Scott, the black North Charleston resident who, according to charges,  was shot to death by a North Charleston police officer following a minor traffic stop last summer. Bamberg had earlier backed Clinton. In his endorsement of Sanders in late January, Bamberg said, "Bernie represents bold new leadership and is not afraid to challenge the status quo."

Clinton holds a lead in recent polling that approaches 20 points, but Sanders has closed the gap considerably since last fall when he looked like a very long shot. Both candidates have extensive door-to-door voter canvassing operations and phone banks, but the impact of those efforts won't be known until votes are counted.

In past state Democratic primaries, older blacks have been the most reliable voters, with up to 70% of them casting ballots. In 2008, they went nearly 4 to 1 for Barack Obama to help give him his surprise victory over Clinton and pave the way to his nomination and election victory that November.

In that primary, Clinton lost to a black man. In 2016, she is running against a white man. The majority of voters in the Feb. 27 state Democratic primary are expected to be black.

Will enough older black voters, who were getting comfortable with Clinton and her candidacy before Sanders began to make an impression last fall, stay with her in her tightening race against Sanders? Will enough younger blacks who are enthusiastic for Sanders be registered and actually vote? Will the results on Feb. 27 produce another surprise result, but of a different color?

The Washington Post today (Wednesday) ran an article headed, "Hillary Clinton's firewall may be missing some bricks." The missing bricks are more likely to be found in Nevada  and other Western states, where non-white voters are mostly Hispanic, not black, as they are in South Carolina. While black voters have Clinton's back, as the article says, Hispanics may not prove as loyal. 

The idea will get tested Saturday when Nevada Democrats will caucus to choose between Clinton and Sanders. A slightly higher percentage of  Hispanics compared to blacks will be voting in the caucuses.

[The Associated Press projected Clinton as the winner of the Nevada caucuses at 5:15 p.m. (ET) Saturday. The AP put her ahead of Sanders at that point by 52 to 48. A minute later, Clinton sent out this tweet: "To everyone who turned out in every corner of Nevada with determination and heart: This is your win. Thank you. -H."

[In her victory speech in Las Vegas, Clinton stressed inclusive solutions to the issues she's campaign on, like "systemic racism," stagnating middle-class and lower-income earnings, the uncertainties faced by undocumented migrants from Latin America and the tuition debt-load of college graduates. "The President of the United States can't do it alone," she told the cheering crowd. "It's got to be all the United States of America."]

TOM GRUBISICH

 

 

 

 

 

In limbo now, will local school accountability finally get real...or not?

By Tom Grubisich

We're in limbo on accountability in how well public schools in Charleston County and the rest of the state are performing. And we'll stay there until students take the newly adopted SC Ready assessment tests in the spring and the state adopts standards to grade schools on how well their students do on the tests.

Not only are there the new SC Ready assessments, but also the implications of the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the replacement for No Child Left Behind. ESSA gives states more leeway in developing tests and setting criteria on how test results will be measured when schools are graded on their students' academic performance.

Trying to find steady footing in limbo, I went to Melanie Barton, executive director of the independent state Education Oversight Committee, the bipartisan group appointed by the legislature and the governor that makes recommendations to the legislature and the state Department of Education on assessment tests and how schools are rated, based on test scores..

"We are now looking at how to create an accountability system that incentivizes behaviors that are best for all students and can move them toward success in colleges and careers," Barton told me.

Under federal law, states must identify any minority group that is underperforming. That means that black students will continue to get special attention, and the state will be under pressures -- leeway from ESSA or no -- to ensure that black students, overall, get a quality education that will prepare them for college or a career. Equal-quality education for black students has been and remains an unfulfilled promise by the Charleston County school system for decades. It's a continuing problem among all the Tricounty school systems. .

Up to now, the magnitude of the achievement gap between white and black students has been seriously blurred by state accountability standards that permitted many predominantly black schools in Charleston County to be graded as "average," when they were actually "below average" and lower.

The unreliability of the last report cards for predominantly black schools in the county -- issued in 2014 -- was underscored by results of the tougher ACT Aspire assessment tests that students took in 2015 (see chart below). The state did not issue school report cards based on the ACT Aspire tests, but the raw test results showed that black students in Charleston County elementary schools scored much lower than they did in 204 under the old PASS assessment tests.

Charleston County elementary schools appeared to be doing well when they were graded on the results of 2014 PASS test scores in reading and math (first green bars in charts covering 3rd-grade results)). But the 2015 ACT Aspire test results showed much less progress (second green bars in charts) . It's an open question whether the state will adopt tougher accountability standards based on new SC Ready assessment tests that will be given this spring.  CREDIT Reading and math gaps are from Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative.

Charleston County elementary schools appeared to be doing well when they were graded on the results of 2014 PASS test scores in reading and math (first green bars in charts covering 3rd-grade results)). But the 2015 ACT Aspire test results showed much less progress (second green bars in charts) . It's an open question whether the state will adopt tougher accountability standards based on new SC Ready assessment tests that will be given this spring.

CREDIT Reading and math gaps are from Tri-County Cradle to Career Collaborative.

The ACT Aspire results showed that Charleston County schools overall -- whatever their racial enrollments -- did not do well. But the full impact was obscured because the state was on a "pause" in rating schools last year.

I asked Barton if the new SC Ready assessment tests that are replacing the short-lived ACT Aspire tests will lead to report cards that truly measure how well schools in Charleston County are performing, in particular predominantly black ones.  Her answer: 

“I don't know the answer to that question. The EOC won't see the tests until after [they're administered] this spring. We will have to approve [them], though after that. In addition to their rigor, the larger question is how the "cut" scores are set. In simple terms, that means, how many questions would a student need to answer correctly at each grade level to be considered proficient or on grade level? The bar has to be set at a level to guarantee students will graduate college and career ready.”

I went next  to Ted Legasey, who was the spark plug behind the recently formed Movement for Effective Schools for All Charleston County Children, which sees a "total failure" of the state accountability system through the last round of school report cars and by the Charleston school system in making meaningful progress in closing the historical white-black achievement gap.

This is Legasey's look at the fork in the road to credible standards of accountability:

 “I am a fan of Melanie Barton.  She understands the real facts about the state of public education in South Carolina and is a clear voice for reform and what needs to be done.  I have no doubt she will try her best to ensure that SC standards are high, that the state assessment against those standards is rigorous, and that state report cards are fair and clear. But, that said, she is not in control of all these things.  Ultimately the Legislature, the  State Superintendent of Education and the Board of Education have a hand in all of this.

“The first ''test' of the seriousness of the State's intent will be the rigor that is designed into the the new assessment that will be administered to 3rd throuth 8th graders in ELA and Math in the spring....The new assessment is…being developed by the same vendor who developed the PASS tests.

“It will be based on South Carolina's version of common core standards, which are reported to be 'high standards,' but we'll have to wait and see. If the results of the new assessment look like ACT Aspire results in terms of the percentage of students who meet or exceed standards, we can be encouraged that South Carolina may be on the right path.  However, if the results look more like PASS results, it will be very discouraging.

 

Spoleto's 'Porgy and Bess' is the opera, not musical theater

We noticed recently that Spoleto Festival USA’s forthcoming production of the classic folk opera “Porgy and Bess,” for which Charleston was the inspiration and setting, was a quick box-office sellout. We sat down virtually with Jennifer Scott, Spoleto’s Director of Marketing and Public Relations, to get an update on the production, which will be presented six times at the Gaillard Center during the 2016 Festival in late May and early June. Here’s the Q & A:

How quickly did the six shows sell out?
We reached capacity for all six performances three weeks after going on sale for the general public, on Jan. 14.

Do you know if most tickets were bought by Charlestonians, or were tourists and other visitors major buyers?
The Spoleto Festival USA audience mix is generally a 50/50 mix of “away” and “local” with “local” being from the tri-county area. Ticket buyers to date fall into this same split. It is difficult to tell how many in our audiences are from out of town as we do not determine why they are visiting Charleston, apart from attending our shows. We have built up a very loyal audience who attend the Festival on an annual basis. Ticket buyers to date (it is still very early in our ticket sales cycle) also include people new to the Festival. This encompasses tickets to many Festival events, not just "Porgy and Bess," which is one of around 40 productions and concerts we have this year.

In 2011, a greatly revised "Porgy and Bess," directed by Diane Paulus, opened to great controversy at the American Repertory Theater in New York City. There have been other revised versions, going back to the early 1940s, when most of the opera’s recitatives were eliminated and replaced with dialogue, which greatly reduced the length of the show. Which version is being presented by Spoleto?
We are presenting the opera, not a revision. We are using the original 1935 opera score.

Excerpt from George Gershwin's introduction to the original 1935 opera production of "Porgy and Bess."  CREDIT: Music Division, Library of Congress.

Excerpt from George Gershwin's introduction to the original 1935 opera production of "Porgy and Bess."

CREDIT: Music Division, Library of Congress.

The 2011 Paulus production was a Gershwin Estate-endorsed musical theater production for Broadway, not an opera production. This is obviously a very different style. One of the fascinating aspects of “Porgy and Bess” is that, although created by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward (the husband and wife theatrical team from Charleston) and Ira Gershwin (George's brother) as an opera, there have been several reiterations as a musical theater piece. But the original production over the years has gained recognition as a serious operatic work, with the Houston Grand Opera 1976 production being a special landmark.

Our Porgy is baritone Lester Lynch, who performed this role for the Lyric Opera of Chicago to great acclaim in 2008, and our Bess is esteemed soprano Alyson Cambridge, who will be singing this important role for the first time. She has previously sung the role of Clara.

(Note: For all of the pre-production controversy, the 2011 Broadway production won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical and Audra McDonald won a Tony for her portrayal of Bess. This review in The New Yorker by Hilton Als encapsulates the story well.)

The costumes for this production were designed by Jonathan Green, the Charleston artist. He recounted, in an interview in the Post and Courier last October, what he told Nigel Redden, your General Director, regarding the costumes: "Can I do it from [this] perspective: 'What if Africans had come here like everyone else?’ ” What will Green's "look" look like compared to the costumes and sets from other productions?

"Porgy and Bess" costumes sketches by Jonathan Green include, from left, Maria, owner of the cook shop, and one of the beach folk.

"Porgy and Bess" costumes sketches by Jonathan Green include, from left, Maria, owner of the cook shop, and one of the beach folk.

At this point of the production process, the sets and costumes are still being made! However, the reason that Jonathan Green was the first and obvious choice as Visual Designer was that he brings an authentic Gullah vision and experience to this production. His design aesthetic married with Director David Herskovits’s overall vision for this production aims to show the audience a Charleston and a Catfish Row it recognizes, while also taking the audience on a visual journey that may result in them walking out of the Gaillard and seeing the city in a new way.

With any new production, we do not want to give away too many specifics, but it will be a very special and distinctive production that we hope will resonate deeply with people.

What kind of national buzz is developing around the Spoleto production? Do you expect out-of-town critics, perhaps from New York, to come to hear it?
Our season announcement press release was picked up nationally, including in the New York Times and also extensively via the Associated Press wire service as well as several opera and classical music industry outlets. We have also had excellent regional and local coverage, with this production considered a highlight of the Festivals 40th season.

 It is too early to confirm national press attendance, but we do anticipate that national and international opera critics will attend and review this production, as well as our two other operas, both of which are U.S. premieres (“The Little Match Girl” and “La Double Coquette.”)

The Music Critics Association of North America will be holding its annual meeting in Charleston during the Festival and members will attend all three operas. Certainly the relative rarity of “Porgy and Bess” being performed in Charleston – its home –  alongside Spoleto Festival USA’s international reputation for its opera productions, and also the Festival’s return to the renovated Gaillard, have ignited a significant amount of interest. Our award-winning and acclaimed Director David Herskovits and Jonathan Green’s role as Visual Designer also add to this buzz.

 

 

Celebration of epochal 1868 constitutional convention gains support

Beyond Catfish Row's call last week for the Charleston community to mount a 150th anniversary celebration of the constitutional convention of 1868 and its pioneering achievements in granting equal rights is gaining serious traction.

Francis L. Cardozo, who was an instrumental figure in the rights-granting achievements of the 1868 state constitutional convention and held major elected offices in the new state government before he was framed by white-supremacist opponents and convicted of corruption. 

Francis L. Cardozo, who was an instrumental figure in the rights-granting achievements of the 1868 state constitutional convention and held major elected offices in the new state government before he was framed by white-supremacist opponents and convicted of corruption. 

The National Park Service's coordinator for its "Reconstructing Reconstruction" initiative, Michael Allen, told us: "I am supportive of your description of the project." Charleston NAACP President Dot Scott says: "Count us in." Charleston College historian Dr. Tammy Ingram says: "I think this would be great for Charleston on the heels of the Civil War sesquicentennial celebration. And I think there would be more support for this locally than you might think."  Longtime state civil right leader Charles Traynor (Bud) Ferillo Jr., author and director of the documentary "Corridor of Shame: the Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools" (2005), is another supporter.

Dr. W. Lewis Burke of the University of South Caroline Law School, who has done pioneering published research discrediting the white-supremacist-led corruption conviction of convention leader and free black Francis L. Cardozo of Charleston, says he would like to talk at the possible celebration about Cardozo's frame-up and how it destroyed his bright career in state government during Reconstruction.

The former state secretary and treasurer was pardoned two years after his conviction, but, unable to find work in the Capitol or Charleston, he moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked in a low level of  the U.S. Treasury Department and later became a high school teacher in the District. Francis Cardozo Senior High School in the District is named after him.

Before the constitutional convention launched his political career, Cardozo was active in the founding of the Avery Normal School, the first accredited school for free blacks in Charleston. He succeeded his brother, Thomas, to become the school's second principal, and led the effort to build its permanent structure, at 125 Bull St.  The school became part of the segregated Charleston County school system in 1947, but the county school board closed it for financial reasons in 1954, when the U.S. Supreme Court desegregated public schools. Today it is the headquarters of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, which is part of the College of Charleston.

The timing for a 150th anniversary celebration in Charleston would be in early 2018 to mark the 53 days of the convention, which was held from Jan. 14 to March 17, 1868, in the old Charleston Club House at 71 Meeting St. The Club House was demolished after it was ruined in the earthquake of 1886. The only remnant surviving today is its courtyard and driveway, which are adjacent to the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center at the corner of Meeting and Broad Streets.

The National Park Service's year-long "Reconstructing Reonstruction"  project aims to survey events and places in the Southeastern states that were significant in the Reconstruction era.  The NPS would landmark the locations of events that are singled out. While the state constitutional convention held in Charleston is no longer identified with a physical structure, it apparently could still be land-marked in the surviving courtyard. It may be possible to locate exhibition space in the adjacent J. Waties Waring Judicial Center. 

Beyond Catfish Row expects to be meeting this week with NPS's Michael Allen on how the Park Service might help the community put on a 150th celebration of the constitutional convention, whose achievements include granting unconditional suffrage to black males and establishing the first publicly supported statewide school system -- work in which Cardozo played a major role.

TOM GRUBISICH

 

CAJM on local racial inequalities: 'In many areas, the gaps are widening'

Morris Street Baptist Church is one of the 30 congregations which are members of Charleston Area Justice Ministry.  Photo credit: Leroy Burell.

Morris Street Baptist Church is one of the 30 congregations which are members of Charleston Area Justice Ministry.

Photo credit: Leroy Burell.

The Charleston Area Justice Ministry, 30 congregations strong, is becoming increasingly activist in going up against social injustice in the region. Created five years ago, it targets inequality in education, employment, housing, health care and criminal justice, including incarceration, among other areas.. CAJM's strategy is inspired by the Old Testament lesson of Nehemiah, the cup-bearer to the King of Persia who became the prophet who led the rebuilding of the Wall of Jerusalem in 52 days through a combination of prayer and a mass but decentralized program of construction.

Beyond Catfish Row had this recent virtual talk with CAJM staff, including Lead Organizer Treva Williams, about the Ministry's mission and its objectives in 2016: 

How serious of an issue is inequality for blacks and other minorities in Charleston, according to CAJM?
Very serious.  In the past 3 ½ years, CAJM has worked on multiple community problems.  All of the areas in which we have worked have shown wide disparities and inequities.  Inequities exist in the education system, criminal justice system and economic system just to name a few.  

 Is the trend line in progress on closing racial gaps heading upward or down?
We have not seen any data that shows that the gaps are closing.  In many areas (educational performance, incarceration, unemployment, household income) those gaps are widening.  However, more than ever, as a community we seem to be open to wrestling with these gaps and the reasons they exist.  Being able to truthfully acknowledge that these gaps exist because of racism and white privilege allows us as a community to change policies and practices in order to close those gaps.

Recent Nehemiah Action Assembly of Charleston Area Justice Ministry.

Recent Nehemiah Action Assembly of Charleston Area Justice Ministry.

What areas in racial inequality is CAJM focusing on in 2016?
We are focusing on racial discrimination within policing practices.  Hundreds of stories came out of our house meeting process about police harassment in predominantly black neighborhoods.  We are in the process of researching the police practices of pretext or investigatory stops that have been shown to increase racial profiling.  North Charleston and Charleston lead the State of South Carolina with the numbers of pretext stops.  The use of pretext stops has been shown to erode community trust since officers stop individuals for minor traffic violations for the sole purpose of trying to uncover evidence of additional criminal activity.  While only a small percentage of individuals actually commit the crimes in those neighborhoods, the entire community is treated as potential suspects, destroying community and police relations.  We are also focusing on school based arrests.  Over 50% of juvenile arrests are coming from within our school system and the majority of those arrests are of black youth.  Arresting a kid in school for non-violent offenses tends to be detrimental to the student, school and community and further enforces the school to prison pipeline.

Are you seeing interest from more congregations as potential members of CAJM?
There has always seemed to be a strong interest for being a part of CAJM.  However over the past year, there does seem to be more individuals willing to put in the time to push their congregations to join in the work.

Blacks students in high-poverty neighborhoods in Charleston and North Charleston are lagging academically far behind white students.  CAJM has attended meetings of the recently formed Excellent Education for All Students of Charleston County schools. Does CAJM support the major education reforms that the group is discussing?
CAJM will always support the use of best practices that are made available to ALL students.  It is very likely that major reforms are needed. However, there are a lot of best practices that could be implemented now in the current system that could transform the outcomes and experiences for many students of color. 

Is CAJM happy with progress from the work it's been doing to reduce student suspensions and the incarceration of teenagers for non-felonious offenses?
While we are happy with the progress, we recognize that there is much more work that is needed to be done.  There are still kids being locked up because there wasn’t a parent in which to release them.  There are still students being locked up for status offenses like truancy and running away. While suspension rates are dropping there are still schools who have not embraced the use of Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports and Restorative Practices.

What is CAJM's message to worshipers whose congregations are not members of CAJM? If they want to see more action on racial equality, what can and should they do as worshipers, especially if they're not hearings messages of action from their pastors and other congregation leaders?
CAJM has three full time organizers on staff ready to meet with clergy and lay leaders who are interested in working on problems that impact racial equality.  Our success as an organization is directly connected to our power of people.  We are always working to engage more people.  More people involved means more people are educated about the problems in Charleston County, the best practices to address those problems and with that growing power of people, we are able to show our public officials what we want for our community. 



Why isn't Reconstruction part of Charleston's 'living history'?

Charleston street corner, 1866.  Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Charleston street corner, 1866.

Credit: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

by Tom Grubisich

Hillary Clinton got her knuckles rapped for her recent old-school, pre-Civil Rights Movement interpretation of Reconstruction in which a vindictive North shared blame with the defeated white South for what went wrong during the tumultuous period that followed the Civil War. If a presidential candidate can't get it right, what about the rest of America?

There's a generation's worth of new thinking about Reconstruction, especially what it meant for America's 4 million former slaves and how they were given equal rights and then had them snatched away. It's summed up with crisp authority in this article by Eric Foner, the Columbia University historian who earlier wrote the best-selling "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877." But despite  all the scholarly work by Foner and other recent and contemporary historians discrediting their old-school predecessors, Reconstruction continues to occupy an uneasy place in American memory.

The National Park Service, the keeper of the nation's history flame, wants to change that. Last year,  Director Jonathan B. Jarvis announced a "National Historic Landmark Theme Study on the U.S. Reconstruction Era" because the period was so "often ignored or misunderstood." not least by the NPS.  

How about "almost always ignored"? Charleston, for example, promotes its "living history." But none of its official carriage tours go by, or even mention, the site right in the middle of the Historic District where one of the most significant events of Reconstruction anywhere took place -- the auspicious state constitutional convention of 1868. Today all that's left is a courtyard that's part of the federal complex of buildings in the J. Waties Waring Judicial Center. But in 1868, the courtyard led to the grand, Corinthian-pillared Charleston Club House, where the convention was held. The Club House was reduced to a battered shell in the earthquake of 1886 and had to be demolished.

The location of the now-gone  Charleston Club House , at 71 Meeting St., where the constitutional convention of 1868 was held from Jan. 14 to March 17.  Credit: Google Maps.

The location of the now-gone Charleston Club House, at 71 Meeting St., where the constitutional convention of 1868 was held from Jan. 14 to March 17.

Credit: Google Maps.

The convention's white and black delegates, which included former slaveholding planters and also freed slaves, drew up a constitution that not only granted suffrage to black males -- the condition imposed by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress before rebellious Southern states could re-enter the Union -- but also did so without any conditions, such as property ownership or literacy. Not even the constitutions of some Northern states included such sweeping voting rights.

The convention also approved creation of a non-segregated statewide public school system, eliminated property ownership as a condition for voting power and granted legal rights to women.

William J. Whipper, a black delegate who had been a strong supporter of relief for financially threatened planters, said in floor debate: "It is our duty, our privilege, to relieve them." His position prevailed in a showdown vote.

William J. Whipper, a black delegate who had been a strong supporter of relief for financially threatened planters, said in floor debate: "It is our duty, our privilege, to relieve them." His position prevailed in a showdown vote.

Race hovered over all 53 days of the proceedings, but at decisive moments, the delegates didn't act as white and black blocs.  Black delegate William J. Whipper, who had been an antebellum abolitionist lawyer in Pennsylvania, served in a black Union regiment in the war and would become one of the most influential members of the South Carolina legislature under the new constitution, said during debate on whether white planters should get financial relief: "...our sole object should be to pass laws that will benefit the whole people of South Carolina. And if we see any class of people suffering here, it is our duty, our privilege, to relieve them."  Whipper's argument helped to muster 16 votes from the black convention majority in favor of  financial relief for the planters, and the measure was approved, 57 to 52.

Albert G. Mackey, who, as President of the convention, helped  to defuse heated confrontations during debates and keep business moving along toward a successful adjournment on March 14, 1868.

Albert G. Mackey, who, as President of the convention, helped  to defuse heated confrontations during debates and keep business moving along toward a successful adjournment on March 14, 1868.

There were moments during convention debates when heated disputes -- some of them racially based -- threatened to tear the assembly apart. But the convention president, the white Charleston physician Albert G. Mackey,  masterfully kept the proceedings going, even if he sometimes had to admonish a fitful delegate to take his leave. 

How the racially integrated convention was able to achieve what it did less than three years after South Carolina's slave society had been swept away is a remarkable achievement that surely holds lessons for white-black relations today.  Yet there is little accessible public history in Charleston that calls attention to this achievement, much less a prominent educational marker. (An earlier version of this post said erroneously that the "City of Charleston Tour Guide Training Manual" did not include any information on the constitutional convention of 1868. In fact, the manual, produced by the Historic Charleston Foundation, contains two pages on the convention. We were mislead because the convention was not cited in the manual's "A Brief Charleston Chronology.")

The city, through its cultural and educational institutions, business associations and rights advocacy groups, as well as City Hall, can make up for this massive snub of history by mounting a 150th anniversary of the convention in January-March of 2018.

The first thing the city should do is ask the National Park Service to identify the former 71 Meeting St. as an official Reconstruction national site. The Club House where the convention was held is gone, but there's room in the courtyard for a marker. Perhaps space could be found in the adjacent J. Waties Waring Judicial Center for an exhibition where at least a part of the assembly hall could be recreated, so visitors could get a feel for what happened 150 years ago. Personal video displays could show an annotated transcript of the proceedings.

A week-long series of forums, speeches and other events during the anniversary celebration would help audiences gain a fuller understanding of Reconstruction than perhaps Hillary Clinton was able to get at her public schools in the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge or at Wellesley College.

The electric moments of debate on crucial issues could be captured in sketches prepared by local acting groups speaking in the delegates' language, which, on occasion, reached Ciceronian levels of eloquence.

The community has the resources to mount a sesquicentennial celebration that would, after long last, do justice to the constitutional convention of 1868. The occasion would not only bring to life an important but ignored chapter of Charleston's history and heritage,  but also help inspire all America to have a more confident understanding of Reconstruction and its "unfinished revolution."

Park Service team to give update on 'Reconstructing the Reconstruction Era' at Avery Center on April 20

National Park Service education specialist Michael Allen and Ciera Gordan, a NPS intern and graduate student in history at College of Charleston, will provide an update on the agency's "Reconstructing the Reconstruction Era" project at a brown-bag lunch at the Avery Center on Wednesday, April. 20, from 12 noon to 1:15 p.m.

Allen and Gordan will review the Park Service's  "Reconstruction Era Theme Study," which, when completed later this year, will be the basis for establishing a series of historic sites commemorating major events during Reconstruction in South Carolina and other Southeastern states.

Allen is coordinator of the project and Gordan has been involved as well.

For more information, contact Mary Battle, Public Historian at the Avery Center, at battlemp@cofc.edu. and (843) 953-7609. 

The Avery Center is at 125 Bull St. on the College of Charleston campus.