By Damion Smalls
Lowcountry newspapers The Post & Courier and The Charleston Chronicle are teaming up to bring stories of the city’s racial past to the forefront by welcoming Black community members to take part in an upcoming news publication concerning the social integration of Charleston’s restaurants.
The news outlets are offering Black Charlestonians that lived through the Civil Rights Movement the opportunity to share their experiences “dining while Black” once the town slightly got its act together in the 1960s and legally disbanded whites-only restaurants. The end of the enforcement of Jim Crow laws in 1965, laws put in place after the American Civil War that mandated racial segregation and disportionately harmed African Americans, led to the gradual acceptance of Blacks in white spaces.
Post & Courier food editor and chief critic Hanna Raskin will be recording interview sessions for a future feature in the daily newspaper for those who would like to take part in the historically relevant piece. As a non-native of Charleston, she is vastly intrigued to compare how white society treated African Americans at the start of integration to modern times.
“As someone who eats out in Charleston on an almost nightly basis, I’m profoundly aware of how our dining spaces remain segregated, decades after whites-only restaurants were outlawed,” Raskin acknowledges. “But we know changing the law doesn’t change the culture, which is why we’re taking a closer look at how restaurant integration actually unfolded in the Charleston area – and nobody knows that story better than those who’ve lived it.”
Charleston City Paper columnist K.J. Kearney in August 2015 profiled four Black local women who divulged how the Black restaurant scene looked like before and after the end of segregation. This undertaking between The Post and The Chronicle will highlight the African American experience in the 1950s to 1970s concerning the integration into food establishments that were once illegal for Blacks to patronize.
“My hope is that by showcasing these stories, we can draw readers’ attentions to the racial disparities which persist in a dining scene that’s now celebrated around the world,” Raskin asserts. “Additionally, we’re looking to challenge the local belief that African-American residents were just waiting around to eat in white-owned places, as opposed to having a vibrant restaurant culture of their own.”
Charleston is a bittersweet home for most in its Black community. It’s a city with a relatively sizable Black population that influenced the local culture greatly. However, Charleston is notorious for its gleeful admiration of its racist past that has done too little to admit how poorly “The Holy City” has treated African Americans for the much of its history. This project is an attempt to right some wrongs and center the Black community entirely. “I bet we’ll learn all kinds of things which thus far have been left out of the historical record. It’s exciting to have this opportunity to help restore those facts, feelings and reflections to their rightful place, Raskin says.
Raskin is respectful of those who might be reticent to take part in the historical project. “I understand this is a sensitive subject, and appreciate people might be reluctant to share their personal memories with the general public. To be clear, we won’t publish anything without the interviewee’s permission,” she declares. “The Post and Courier can help spark a conversation, but only by amplifying the experiences of community members: These stories belong to the Black Charlestonians who chose to eat in white-owned restaurants. Accordingly, we want to honor them and their wishes.”
Raskin goes on to explain how the interviews will be set up: “Each of the interview sessions will be structured exactly the same way. Participants will sign in upon arrival, and I’ll interview them in order. There isn’t a set list of questions, since I’ll want to learn more about each person and his or her background before talking about their experiences with Charleston food service establishments before and after integration. These are very important stories, and we want to make sure people feel comfortable when telling them: To that end, we can always pause or stop the interview if the participant feels like he or she needs a break.”
The Post & Courier has also partnered with the Charleston County Public Library to hold recording sessions at various branches April 1-4, 2019. To sign up for an interview session, call Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can also be found on Twitter (@hannaraskin) and Instagram (@hanna_raskin). “We hope to see you at one of the libraries,” remarks the reputable food editor.
Interview recording schedule:
April 1 at the Charleston County Library – Main Branch (68 Calhoun St.) from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
April 2 at the John’s Island Regional Library (3531 Maybank Hwy.) from noon to 3 p.m.
April 3 at the Cynthia Graham Hurd/St Andrews Regional Library (1735 N. Woodmere Dr.) from noon to 3 p.m.
April 4 at the Charleston County Library – Main Branch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.