This site is intended to serve as an introduction to the African-American experience in the Charleston area. It spans from pre-Colonial times through the tragedy of the Emanuel Nine and beyond. The site is meant to inspire a deeper understanding and appreciation of the contributions of Africans and African Americans to Charleston's cultural heritage, and to acknowledge the suffering and inhumanity caused by enslavement. We are extremely grateful for the articles supplied by our contributors. This website - by design - will be an ongoing work in progress as we add more stories of hope, perseverance, and triumph.
We at Explore Charleston will not attempt to rewrite the past, nor can we. Instead, we will share our history as best as we can know it. We will tell the story in full, and not hide those parts that are ugly and painful. We will attempt to learn from the past. Our goal is to inspire ourselves and future generations to live with a true commitment to the worthy goal of equality for all people.
We hope the stories and voices shared here encourage you to visit Charleston and fully experience this rich heritage for yourself.
For more resources or to start planning your trip to Charleston, please visit Explore Charleston.
Brian Hicks is a columnist with The Post and Courier in Charleston and the author of In Darkest South Carolina: J. Waties Waring and the Secret Plot that Sparked a Civil Rights Movement. He is the author or coauthor of ten books, and his column has won three Green Eyeshade Awards for best commentary in the Southeast from the Society of Professional Journalists. He lives in Charleston.
Damon L. Fordham is a native of Spartanburg, SC and a graduate of Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant, SC. He earned his undergraduate degree at the University of South Carolina, and an MA in History from the College of Charleston. He is the author of three books, and serves as an adjunct professor of History at The Citadel and Charleston Southern University.
Elaine Jenkins is the 13th and last child born to the late Esau and Janie B. Jenkins. She was educated in the public schools of Charleston County; earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University; and earned her Juris Doctorate from the University of Southern California's Gould School of Law. Elaine recently returned home to Johns Island, SC, after serving approximately 19 years as the director of planned giving for Africa University, a United Methodist-related university located at the Methodist mission site at Old Mutare, Zimbabwe. Elaine's favorite Bible passage is Luke 12:48---"From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded." This passage informs Elaine's worldview as the Jenkins siblings and family continue the work of the late Esau and Janie B. Jenkins.
Heather L. Hodges served as the director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor from 2017 to 2020. She placed an emphasis on developing educational programs, supporting cultural documentation and historic preservation efforts, encouraging heritage tourism, and fostering new research. Ms. Hodges graduated with honors from the Tulane University School of Law and was awarded a Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship from Georgetown Law School in 2010. She is a member of the advisory boards of South Carolina Sea Grant, Reconstruction Beaufort, and the Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah Geechee and African Diaspora Studies at Coastal Carolina University.
Herb Frazier formerly served as the public relations & marketing manager at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. Before joining Magnolia, Frazier edited and reported for five daily newspapers in the South, including his hometown paper, The Post and Courier. In 1990, the South Carolina Press Association named him Journalist of the Year. He has taught news writing as a visiting lecturer at Rhodes University in South Africa and is a former Michigan Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan.
Jonathan Green is an internationally acclaimed artist and 1982 graduate of The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His thirty-eight year track record of creating art and extensive inclusions in museum collections and exhibitions throughout many countries has led to his being considered by numerous art critics and reviewers as one of our nation’s outstanding American artists. He is recognized for capturing the positive aspects of American and African American Southern Cultures, history, and traditions.
Joseph McGill, Jr. is the founder of The Slave Dwelling Project, Inc., and was previously a field officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Mr. McGill is also the founder of Company “I” 54th Massachusetts Reenactment Regiment in Charleston. The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was the regiment portrayed in the award-winning movie “Glory”.
Kevin Mitchell has been a Chef Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Charleston since 2008. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, he also earned a masters degree in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, where he focused on Southern Foodways, the preservation of Southern ingredients, and the history of African Americans in the culinary arts. In August of 2016 Chef Mitchell became a Nathalie Dupree Graduate Fellow of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
Margaret Seidler, The Accidental Historian, is a retired Organization Development consultant, master trainer, and author. She was born and raised in Charleston. At age 65, she discovered her Charleston roots were deeper than she had ever been told when DNA testing revealed distant cousins of African descent. It was one cousin’s request to find common ancestors that drove Margaret’s more than 400 hours of family research. Shocking results yielded both those ancestral connections and that William Payne, her 4th great-grandfather, brokered the sale of more than 9200 human beings through his Broad Street office location. Over 1100 newspaper ads confirmed the magnitude and details of the vibrant Charleston domestic slave trade between 1800-1834.
Michael A. Allen graduated from South Carolina State University with a degree in history education. He began his career as a cooperative education student with the National Park Service in 1980, and served as a national park ranger, an education specialist, and community partnership specialist for Fort Sumter National Monument, Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and Reconstruction Era National Monument. He retired in December 2017 after a 37½-year career of public service. In April 2019 he was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the state's highest civilian honor, for lifetime achievement in the preservation and interpretation of South Carolina's history.
Michael Boulware Moore was named the first president and CEO of the International African American Museum in February 2016. A graduate of Syracuse University, he later received his MBA from Duke University. He went on to Coca-Cola, where he managed the Coca-Cola brand in the US, and later held a number of senior roles in consumer packaged goods companies before leading a boutique strategy consulting firm in Atlanta, GA. Mr. Moore returned to the private sector in August 2019 after successfully leading the effort to fund construction of the museum. Moore has deep roots in Charleston as the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls.
Rhoda Green, a native of Barbados, is CEO of the Barbados and the Carolinas Legacy Foundation, and serves on the board of the South Carolina Heritage Corridor. She has served as Barbados' Honorary Consul to South Carolina since 2008.
Ruth M. Miller is a public historian and storyteller. A former high school teacher, for the last forty years she has been delving into the history of Charleston and the Carolina LowCountry. She shares her discoveries as a certified tour guide for the City of Charleston, a speaker and author. Ruth ties the history of this city and the Carolina LowCountry into the American story and worldwide events. Her publications include Slavery to Civil Rights: A Walking Tour of African-American Charleston.
Tom O’Rourke is currently an educator, a parks and recreation consultant, and a speaker. He serves as a Professor of Practice in the PRTM Department at Clemson University. Tom previously served as the Executive Director of the Charleston County Parks & Recreation Commission from 2001-2019, leading the Agency though the largest capital project, budget, and attendance growth in the agency’s history. Recreation is Tom’s profession, but his passion has always been coaching. He has coached State Championship teams and numerous State Qualifying Pole Vaulters, and will serve as the pole vault coach at the new Lucy Beckham High School in Mt. Pleasant. Tom’s start in coaching was at East Cooper School in Mt. Pleasant from 1979-1986, where he coached Travis Ascue.
Tracey Todd enjoys researching and writing about the Middleton family and the contributions they made in the Colonial, Revolutionary and Civil War eras. He coauthored Beyond the Fields: Slavery at Middleton Place and produced an award-winning PBS documentary film based on the book. He has served the Middleton Place Foundation in many capacities through his twenty-eight year tenure, most recently as COO and currently as President and CEO.