By Barney Blakeney
The African American Settlement Communities Historic Commission October 28 dedicated its headquarters at the Peter and Marguerite Johnson Center located 440 Venning St. in Mount Pleasant. The 18-month-old AASCHC, Inc. was formed to address unprecedented pressure from growth and development impacting African American settlement communities such as Snowden, Scanlonville (Remley’s Point), Phillip, and Huger. Its headquarters in the Johnson’s former home is symbolic of the commission’s role in preserving local history and culture.
“With the population growth that is occurring within Charleston County we are witnessing the demise of the special character of African American settlement communities, which are an important part of the social history of the area,” said co-founder and President, John Wright.
Previously the commission met at the home of former Mount Pleasant Town Councilwoman Thomasena Stokes-Marshall. Collaboration with Johnson-Hall Funeral Home owner Sam Hall led to the commission’s headquarters in the house where the business first was established by the Johnsons in 1929. The commission’s goal was to find a headquarters where residents from various communities could have a common connection.
The Johnsons ran their funeral home business until 1997. During those years they were a stabilizing presence in the African American community and supported many community initiatives. They had no children, but kept busy with involvement in community affairs. Peter Johnson was founder of the NAACP in Mount Pleasant and unsuccessfully ran for the Mount Pleasant School Board in 1940. In addition to working in their funeral home Marguerite Johnson, who hired other women to help her, ran a business washing and ironing for soldiers stationed on Sullivan’s Island. After her husband’s death in 1953 she became Mount Pleasant’s first female mortician. The commission felt it is fitting to name their new headquarters in the Johnsons’ honor.
Speakers at the October 28 dedication, who included Mount Pleasant Mayor Linda Page and S.C. First Dist. U.S. Cong. Mark Sanford, repeatedly lauded the historic and cultural significance of both the commission and the Johnsons whose activism preceded it.
The commission’s goals are to protect and preserve the existing character of African American Settlement Communities, to nurture and support a strong sense of community, identity, history, and economic development both within the African American Settlement Communities and the larger region, including the Gullah Geechee Corridor, to support the traditions of land ownership which have connected families with their land for many generations, and to provide resources that will allow harmonious growth including land use regulations that are consistent and compatible with the existing characteristics of the individual African American Settlement Communities.
Currently the AASCHC is collaborating with the Coastal Conservation League, Mount Pleasant Historic Commission, Historic Charleston Foundation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Coastal Community Foundation, and The College of Charleston Historic Preservation Department. Its goal is to also partner with other organizations and African American communities in the near future.
“We realize this will take a collaborative effort so we are developing relationships with both public and private organizations and individuals to ensure we successfully achieve our goals. The AASCHC hopes this will be the beginning of a relationship as we continue to address the demise of African American Settlement Communities in the region,” Wright said.