Charleston County Public Library to host “Slavery to Civil Rights: A Walking Tour of African-American Charleston” lecture and book signing

The newly published book, Slavery to Civil Rights, looks at the less told history of Charleston’s African-American community. The highly illustrated volume begins in the 1600s and carries through to the present time. Written by local historian and tour guide, Ruth Miller, the manuscript is based on her forty years spent learning and sharing the LowCountry story. Ruth teamed up with researcher Alec Cooley to record events of black history seldom heard and lost or buried over the years while weaving them into the more well-known subjects of slave trade, Reconstruction, Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights Movement. 

For example, do you know why are there more Baha’is than Jews in the state of South Carolina? What happened in the Charleston race riots of 1919? Why does Charleston hold claim to the first Memorial Day? 

Did you know an English trader, who described the enslaved whom he sold here as “unclean creatures,” is the same man who later wrote the hymn Amazing Grace? Did you know the first African-American woman doctor licensed in the state was also the first female doctor in this city? Dr. Lucy Brown also co-founded the first nurses’ training hospital in the state of South Carolina.

The book gives recognition to “The Nameless Enslaved” whose life stories are nonexistent except for bills of sale, runaway slave ads, inventories of wills, and such.  For example, you may have heard of the Grimke sisters, nationally known abolitionists. Slavery to Civil Rights not only locates the house where the girls grew up, it documents the slaves their father owned from the inventory of his will. “Servants” in the city include “Nancy 73 years still useful,” who is valued at $5. The thirty-four plantation enslaved are only itemized by first name and appraised value in the list entitled “Certain Goods and Chattels” which also includes mules, horses and livestock. Thus David valued at $800 is found in the same category as Mule Jack valued at $150.

The book’s format is two walking tours, one centered on Broad Street, the other on Calhoun Street, with a third section titled “Additional Sites and Stories.” However, each entry is a story unto itself and taken as a whole Slavery to Civil Rights: A Walking Tour of African-American Charleston becomes an interesting and widely ranging read of Charleston’s African-American history. 

“Alec Cooley and Ruth Miller are going where few have gone before. This guide provides a side of Charleston’s history that is seldom revealed,” says Joseph McGill, Founder of the Slave Dwelling Project.“This work is an insightful and well organized resource guide for tourists and locals who seek in depth factual information about Lowcountry African American History and Culture,” says Sherman E. Pyatt, Commissioner Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.

The book can be purchased now at area gift shops, including the Charleston Visitors Center, Gibbes Museum, Historic Charleston Foundation and Preservation Society of Charleston. Retail locations interested in carrying the book can purchase copies wholesale through the Charleston Postcard Company. 

Alec Cooley and Ruth Miller will give a public lecture at the main branch of the Charleston County Public Library at 68 Calhoun Street on Saturday, February 23 at 3:30pm. The lecture will feature stories from the book about noteworthy persons and significant in African-American history in Charleston. The authors will be available to sign copies following the lecture. 

For more information about the book, visit www.slaverytocivilrights.net.   

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