Interwoven into South Carolina’s landscape are historic spaces and structures that provide a lens into the Black experience in America. Clemson University is on a mission to preserve and amplify the enshrouded elements of the state’s past through the cultivation of a Black Heritage Trail.
The project received a $3.4 million grant through the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project; a $250 million initiative designed to illuminate the stories of marginalized communities who have been left out of history books. The South Carolina project will stretch throughout the cities of Seneca and Clemson; using historical markers to highlight landmarks that illustrate narratives of Black resilience.
Amongst the stops that will be included along the trail are the Woodland Cemetery and African American Burial Ground on Clemson University’s campus, the former Blue Ridge High School which was an educational pillar for Black scholars in Oconee County before schools were desegregated and now serves as a community center, and the Clemson Area African American Museum; a cultural institution that celebrates the historical and modern-day contributions of trailblazing African Americans. The interactive trail will also feature digital content that takes a deeper dive into the significance of the storied sites.
The project is being collaboratively led by educators and community leaders. Amongst those leading the creation of the trail are Rhondda Thomas, Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson, the city of Seneca’s Executive Director of Arts, History and Culture Shelby Henderson and the Clemson Area African American Museum’s Executive Director Angela Agard. All three women are part of the Call My Name Coalition, a collective of community organizations with a shared mission to preserve Black history in Oconee, Pickens and Anderson.
“The presence of the trail will assist the museum in fulfilling its mission to tell a complete story of African Americans in and around the Clemson community,” Agard shared in a statement. “The trail will provide an opportunity for the neighboring communities to collaborate in efforts to forge paths of connection both literally and figuratively. It will become not only a recreational, public health and economic development resource but also solidify a culturally significant legacy that will impact community members and visitors for generations.”
Thomas added the trail will “make this history visible and accessible to those who come to Clemson, re-inscribing it on the University’s landscape and affirming Clemson’s indebtedness to Black people, particularly laborers, for its existence, development, and success.”
There have been concerted efforts to preserve Black historical and cultural pillars throughout the U.S. In 2022, the state of New Jersey unveiled plans to create its own Black Heritage Trail.
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