By Barney Blakeney
The 2017 African American Tourism Conference held September 30 at the College of Charleston was another success. Its goals were to educate Black residents and tourism industry officials about the benefits of investing in the development of this niche and to strategize about its future growth and development. One workshop took those initiatives right where people live. The Historic Designations and Historic Preservation of African American Communities session was about the significant heritage of Black neighborhoods, how they are impacted by growth and development and how they may benefit from that growth and development.
The conference, in its fifth year, was a collaboration between several entities that included the Wando-Huger Community Development Corporation, JC & Assc., LLC and the College of Charleston. Kwadjo Campbell, a principle partner in JC & Assc., LLC said the session, in conjunction with others such as the session on accommodation grants, offered communities tools to protect themselves. Such tools can help communities produce festivals that can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to them, he said. They can be used to hire architects and planners, finance feasibility studies for major economic development projects like a hotel, a mixed use multi-family building or a school.
“We had a session to educate communities on how they can become historic as a means of protection and economic development. When it comes to zoning issues like new and unwelcome development, the historic designation comes with regulations developers must abide by. Developers must either mitigate or vacate plans,” Campbell said. “Liberty Hill (in North Charleston) is one such community. City Councilwoman Virginia Jamison actually gave me the idea as she was meeting with me about economic solutions for her district. While she is not the council person who represents Liberty Hill, she has roots there.”
Jamison moderated the Historic Designations and Historic Preservation of African American Communities workshop. Four speakers shared the importance of protecting, preserving and sustaining African American communities. They were Dawn Dawson House – SCPRT, Elizabeth M. Johnson – Deputy State Historic Preservation, Louis Venters – S.C. Department of Archives & History, and Michael Allen – National Park Service.
Jamison said growing up on Liberty Hill had a profound impact on her. Liberty Hill during racial segregation, like many Black neighborhoods, was a self-contained community that had its own schools, varied businesses and social organizations. Much of that has eroded, she said. As the 160-year-old Liberty Hill community more and more becomes absorbed into surrounding new development, its heritage and ability to sustain itself is being lost.
“We can do a lot better,” Jamison said. In a July email to Charleston city officials, Campbell said, “African-American Tourism continues to be a hot topic as an economic generator for South Carolina. The recent economic impact study completed by the University of South Carolina reveals a $2.9 Billion dollar impact. We have yet to scratch the surface. Now, more than ever, we need your support.”
Jamison said, “This is an issue I’ve been working on for several years. I want to be versed on what’s going on and what we can do. There is some interest from government in preserving our heritage, but we have to be at the table. Those who came before us didn’t take this for granted.”