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Slaves built USC’s earliest buildings, new plaques will acknowledge

New plaques recognizing the role that slaves played in the 1800s at the University of South Carolina are coming soon to the school’s historic Horseshoe.
New plaques recognizing the role that slaves played in the 1800s at the University of South Carolina are coming soon to the school’s historic Horseshoe. tdominick@thestate.com

New plaques recognizing the role of slaves in the University of South Carolina’s beginnings are coming soon to the school’s historic Horseshoe.

USC’s trustees Friday approved the text for two new markers, 17 months after a group of mostly black students marched on campus demanding the state’s flagship university make a stronger effort to promote diversity.

USC President Harris Pastides said the effort to erect the black and gold plaques started before the students demanded the historic markers in November 2015. Trustees on Friday quickly approved the project without discussion.

“This is an issue of our historic and material culture,” Pastides said. “The Horseshoe, of course, is hallowed ground. And it’s led to an awareness that there are things about the history of the Horseshoe and the university that we haven’t really expressed yet.”

Slaves played a “fundamental role” at USC from the college’s founding in December 1801 until February 1865, when they were freed by Union troops at the end of the Civil War, according to USC’s libraries.

The college’s first buildings – on the iconic Horseshoe – were built by slave labor and with slave-made brick. Slaves also maintained campus buildings, student dorms and faculty duplexes.

Slaves prepared and served meals to students and faculty, and they lived in outbuildings on campus, including one that still stands behind the president’s house.

The school – then called South Carolina College – and its faculty owned a number of slaves. Others were hired from private citizens to work on campus.

Markers acknowledging that slaves built USC’s earliest buildings were among a number of demands made by a student group, called USC 2020 Vision, during an on-campus march in November 2015.

The group also demanded that USC:

▪  Acknowledge during tours that some of its buildings were built by slave labor

▪  Expand minority student and faculty recruitment efforts

▪  Require diversity training for faculty and staff

▪  Launch investigations of three administrators who the students said had failed to foster diversity on campus

▪  Provide more money for the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs

At the time, USC administrators told the students they would examine the demands but offered no timetable. The State newspaper’s efforts to reach the student group last week and on Friday were unsuccessful.

USC officials say the school already was working toward the plaques before the march. Pastides said he appointed a committee of students, faculty members and trustees to research the issue and draft language for the plaques.

“It takes a long time because it’s not only a sensitive matter, but the research that was done to support the wording took a lot of time,” Pastides said.

The plaques are the latest on-campus example of USC’s efforts to acknowledge its past, officials say.

In April 2014, the university dedicated a garden near the Osborne Administration Building in honor of the first three African-Americans to attend the school after its segregation in 1877. The school currently is raising money for a statue of the school’s first African-American professor, Richard T. Greener, expected to be erected before this fall.

But it is unclear how many of the USC 2020 Vision group’s demands have been met. A USC spokesman said some efforts to address the group’s concerns already were underway. He would not say whether USC has investigated its own administrators.

Asked Friday, Pastides praised USC’s efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on campus. For example, he said the school held a town hall meeting with students on those topics a few weeks ago.

Roughly 23.3 percent of USC’s students are minorities, according to its website.

About 31.2 percent of USC’s employees are minorities, according to documents the school submitted to S.C. lawmakers this year. That number includes 11 of the downtown Columbia school’s 45 administrators.

“We have continued to make great progress, by the way, not as a response to a demand, but because it’s the right thing to do,” Pastides said. “Our diversity and inclusion efforts continue very well, very successfully, and I’m glad we have that open and constant dialogue with all students and faculty.”

USC has not yet decided on the exact locations for the plaques. A USC spokesman Friday said he did not know how much they would cost.

USC trustees on Friday also approved:

▪  Spending $9.3 million to buy 14 acres of SCANA-owned property south of USC’s downtown campus, across Assembly Street from Capital City Stadium

▪  Spending nearly $840,000 to buy a building USC has been renting at 1800 Gervais St., east of campus and northwest of the Five Points entertainment district

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

New plaques

USC trustees Friday approved the following text for two new plaques on its downtown campus:

Slavery and the South Carolina College

“The Horseshoe, the original campus of the University of South Carolina (established in 1801 as the South Carolina College), still appears much as it did in the mid-1800s. Its buildings and historic wall were substantially constructed by slave labor and built of slave-made brick. Enslaved workers were essential to the daily operations of the college, whether they were owned by the faculty or the college itself, or hired from private citizens. Enslaved people lived in outbuildings, one of which still stands behind the president’s house. The University of South Carolina recognizes the vital contributions made by enslaved people.”

Slave quarters

“The last remaining kitchen and slave quarters on campus stands as a tangible link to the enslaved people who lived and worked here. South Carolina College, a forerunner to the modern university, owned a number of slaves and hired countless others between 1801 and 1865. Enslaved people made significant contributions to the construction and maintenance of college buildings and to daily life on campus. Despite limited references to individuals, enslaved workers who appear by name in archival records include Abraham, Amanda, Anna, Anthony, Charles, Henry, Jack, Jim, Joe, Lucy, Mal., Peter, Sancho and his wife, Simon, Toby and Tom. Naming these individuals is an effort to remember substantial contributions to the University of South Carolina.”

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