Historians at South Carolina museum expand its telling of area’s African American historyHistorians in the News
tags: museums, slavery, Black History
While slaves accounted for most of the Berkeley County’s population during the antebellum period, black history has been largely overshadowed by the experiences of white residents in the county’s main museum.
But that’s beginning to change.
In 1790, the area that’s now Berkeley County had about 103,000 slaves compared to 30,000 whites, according to the Berkeley County Museum and Heritage Center. By 1820, blacks comprised a 2-1 majority, a ratio that continued throughout the period.
While the enslaved had a direct result on the wealth accumulated throughout the South, their story simply has not been shared enough in local museums and history books, said Mike Coker, outgoing executive director of the museum.
Current museum exhibits focus on Gen. Francis Marion’s efforts during the American Revolution and the area’s early planters. An eight-foot monument with the names of 263 deceased Confederate soldiers and a replica of a Confederate torpedo boat greet guests outside.
While the center features some displays on blacks who, under forced labor and extreme hardship, created an economy for white plantation owners, the museum aims to expand its telling of local African Americans.
“We’re hoping to tell a clearer story of that here at the museum,” Coker said.
Using county accommodations tax funds, the museum contracted with historian Dr. Edwin Breeden to research on the area’s African American residents. The work will also provide labels for existing and new artifacts and interpretive panels at the museum, highlighting African-Americans’ historical significance.
Some include a wooden post used as a 1862 grave marker for Lucia, a female slave who worked the 600-acre Hyde Park Plantation, and slave shackles used either as punishment or to prevent slaves from running away or attacking their owners.
The museum also will soon receive a colonial era painting of Elias Ball II, a wealthy plantation owner. Coker said this will give the museum an opportunity to tell the story of one of Ball’s slaves, a 10-year-old named Priscilla who was taken from Sierra Leone and worked at a plantation at Comingtee in Berkeley County.
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