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Landmarks & Legends: Marking History

Landmarks Legends-Sign InstallationThree new historical markers at Clemson are tangible reminders of the University’s full history — a history not as idyllic as the well-manicured lawn of Bowman field and the picture-perfect walk by the library.

In April, University officials, trustees and guests broke ground for three double-sided markers: One at the intersection of South Palmetto Boulevard and Fernow Street Extension to commemorate a site where slave quarters stood on the plantation owned by John C. Calhoun and later by University founder Thomas Green Clemson; the second near Calhoun Bottoms farmland to commemorate the role of Native Americans and African-Americans in the development of the Fort Hill Plantation lands; the third near Woodland Cemetery to mark the burial sites of the family of John C. Calhoun, enslaved people and state-leased prisoners who died during their confinement at Clemson.

“The story of Clemson University’s founding is one of great vision, commitment and perseverance,” said President James P. Clements at the event. “However, it is also a story with some uncomfortable history. And, although we cannot change our history, we can acknowledge it and learn from it, and that is what great universities do.”

Landmarks - Fort Hill property wp2The markers are one way Clemson is working to give a more accurate public accounting of its history to acknowledge connections to slavery, segregation or other practices and viewpoints inconsistent with current institutional values.

During the event, Clements praised the work of Rhondda Thomas, associate professor of English, whose research on African-Americans who lived and labored at Clemson prior to desegregation spurred interest in the markers.

One of those stories is about Sharper and Caroline Brown, whose daughter Matilda was born into slavery but lived most of her life as a free woman. Matilda Brown’s granddaughter, Eva Hester Martin, 90, of Greenville, was a guest at the groundbreaking ceremony for the historical markers.

It’s a story Thomas pieced together from personal recollections backed up by photos, newspaper clippings, church and census records, and other documentation. The youngest of 10 children, Martin earned a degree in chemistry from S.C. State University, enjoyed a successful career as a medical technician in Chicago and Los Angeles, and raised four children.

“Our archives are a wonderful resource, and census records are a great help,” Thomas said. “For the convict laborers, however, the pardon records provide the strongest evidence of the men and boys who labored at Clemson, as the documentation specifies when they were released from Clemson College. But in some cases the records are incomplete or missing.”

Thomas hopes the University’s efforts to tell these stories will encourage more family members to come forward with information, photos, family Bibles or other materials that can confirm an ancestor’s connection to the University’s early years.

If you have information for Thomas’ research, email her at rhonddt@clemson.edu.

 

New video series puts discussion ‘On the Table’ and in your pocket

Clemson has launched a new video series that puts experts on your screen when and where you want them. “On the Table,” a public policy series from ClemsonTV, tackles such tough subjects as concussions in sports, the role of technology in our lives and health screening disparities, providing in-depth discussion from leading researchers and scholars who are members of the Clemson faculty.

“We wanted to put topics on the table, figuratively and literally, with something very visual to represent the topic,” says ClemsonTV director Jacob Barker. “The web is flooded with how-to videos, but there is very little to offer in the way of substantive discussion. We wanted to combine expert information with the flexibility of on-demand viewing.”

Each episode is hosted by Peter Kent, a career journalist and former science writer at Clemson. The first three episodes are available now, with several more in production.

In episode one, “Protecting Against Concussions,” Greg Batt, an assistant professor in food, nutrition and packaging, and John DesJardins, an associate professor in bioengineering, explain their work with the national Head Health Initiative on three challenges: finding better tools for doctors to detect brain injury; creating new ways to monitor head impacts as they happen; and developing improved, energy-absorbing and energy-reducing materials.

The second episode, “To Trust or Not To Trust,” features Richard Pak, an associate professor in psychology and his research on the relationship between humans and the technology that makes hundreds of hidden decisions in our lives every day. The outcomes can be beneficial, such as self-driving cars that improve highway safety and driving efficiency. Sometimes, however, they can be detrimental. Are we trusting technology enough or too much?

In episode three, “Witness Breast Cancer Awareness,” Rachel Mayo, a professor in public health sciences, talks about the power of a personal experience that led her to launch the South Carolina Witness Project, part of the National Witness Project. The effort, a network of survivors and community-based organizations, aims to eliminate the disparity of breast and cervical cancer diagnoses and deaths: Black women are more likely to have mammograms, but much more likely to die of breast cancer. Mayo’s research shows that how information is presented makes a difference.

Yet another episode looks at Wade Foster.

Wade Foster was 13 when he helped to build a university he could never attend. His children could never attend. His grandchildren could never attend. Foster was a criminal; a black boy caught stealing six dollars worth of clothes from a white family. Sentenced to six months in prison, South Carolina gave Foster to Clemson University to serve his sentence as convict labor. South Carolina called convict labor “slaves of the state.”

Rhondda Thomas, associate professor of African American Literature at Clemson, sheds light on the slaves who labored to build the institution and why it’s necessary to paint the full picture of a school’s history.

Thomas joined the university in 2007 and teaches African American literature in the English department. She is the author of “Exodus: A Cultural History of Afro-Atlantic Identity, 1774-1903 and the editor of Jane Edna Hunter’s autobiography, “A Nickel and a Prayer.” In 2013, she co-edited “The South Carolina Roots of African American Thought” with Clemson professor of English Susanna Ashton.

Last year she received a grant for her research about African Americans who lived and labored on Clemson land during the pre-1963 integration period. James E. Bostic Jr. and Edith H. Bostic of Atlanta awarded Thomas $50,000. That gift was matched by the university, bringing the total grant to $100,000.