A $3,445,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation’s Monuments Project will support the creation of a Black Heritage Trail on campus and in the cities of Seneca and Clemson. Walking trails will connect heritage sites with interactive signs, artwork and digital content that will share the stories of local Black history and South Carolina historical markers at significant historic sites.
“There is a rich history of African American life in Upstate South Carolina that has been overlooked and is relatively unknown outside of the area and even by many who live in the region,” said Rhondda Thomas, Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson.
The project will be led by representatives from each of the three trail locations, and it will include community engagement and collaboration across campus and in local communities.
On the University campus, Thomas will lead the effort. She is the faculty director of the Call My Name research project, which for more than 15 years has uncovered and shared the stories of Black people throughout Clemson history through books, tours, exhibits and more.
The University portion of the trail will weave through the Woodland Cemetery and African American Burial Ground. Woodland Cemetery predated the University as Cemetery Hill, first established by the John C. Calhoun family, on whose plantation the campus was built. For nearly two centuries, the cemetery has been an active burial site for members of the Calhoun family and for workers and employees — Black and white, enslaved and free — for the Fort Hill Plantation, and later, the University. The Black Heritage Trail project grew out of Thomas’ work as coordinator of research and community engagement for the cemetery project when Clemson trustee David Dukes, chair of the Legacy Council, requested that she seek innovative opportunities for collaborative partnerships between the University and local communities.
“The trail will make this history visible and accessible to those who come to Clemson, reinscribing it on the University’s landscape and affirming Clemson’s indebtedness to Black people, particularly laborers, for its existence, development, and success and its commitment to share its complete history,” Thomas said.
In Seneca, the effort will be led by Shelby Henderson, the city’s executive director of arts, history and culture, and in the City of Clemson, the project will be led by Angela Agard, executive director of the Clemson Area African American Museum. Agard, Henderson and Thomas are members of the Call My Name Coalition, a partnership of local organizations that grew out of their mutual interest in documenting the African American experience in Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties.