Thursday, August 06, 2015
By Bea Hill, produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
For tourists interested in seeing African-American history and culture spots in Spartanburg, there are some great places to visit. Black history in Spartanburg County goes back at least 225 years.
At the Regional History Museum (200 East Saint John Street), you will find materials related to the Civil Rights movement, printed interviews with ex-slaves captured by the Works Progress Administration in the 1940s, as well as the legislative desk of Spartanburg’s first black female representative, Brenda Lee, who served in the S.C. House from 1995-2005.
The museum also has a letter from the French government to the Harlem Hell Fighters, an extraordinary black infantry unit that trained at Spartanburg’s Camp Wadsworth in October 1917 before shipping out in World War I. Their unit was the first Allied regiment to cross the Rhine River into German Territory.
Also at the museum, the late Thomas Parham, a prominent local African-American artist, has a portrait of “Native Americans” that hangs on a wall in the museum.
Just a few yards east of the museum on North Dean Street, you will find the first building that was built for academic use for local African-American children in 1870. Due to subsequent renovations it was not included on the historical register, but it figures prominently in the early advancement of black families in Spartanburg.
On the south side of town, near the Duncan Park baseball field, is the historic “Old City Cemetery” on Cemetery Street, used by the African Americans of this area beginning in 1900. Explore and see the grave sites of some of Spartanburg’s most prominent black citizens, including Mary H. Wright (1862-1946), a teacher who taught for 65 years and was one of the main proponents of education for black children in Spartanburg County. Phyllis Goins (1860-1945), a legendary midwife, is buried there, as is Spartanburg’s first city councilman Thomas Bomar (1864-1904).
The Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, located at 410 South Liberty Street and built more than a century ago, was where the black Episcopalians of this area went to worship. It is the oldest surviving African-American church in the city is the only physical structure left to remind us of the old Southside community, most of which was torn down in Urban Renewal in the 1970s.
At the patron entrance of Snyder Field at Wofford College (the football stadium) you will find a bronze plaque to indicate the location of the neighborhood that was known as “Back of the College,” started by freed black slaves in the mid- to late-1800s. This monument was done by local artist and teacher, Winston Wingo, who is internationally recognized in sculpture and painting. You can see more of his works and learn their stories at winstonwingo.weebly.com.
Few structures remain in the areas where black neighborhoods were first established in the city. To learn more about the rich history of one of those neighborhoods—from emancipation to integration—you will enjoy reading the book “South of Main,” published by the Hub City Writers Project and available at the Hub City Bookshop, 186 West Main Street.
Outside the city of Spartanburg, you can visit two historic properties operated by the Spartanburg County Historical Association that have connections to the times before Emancipation. The Price House, located at 1200 Oakview Farms in Woodruff, has a typical upcountry slave cabin on site. Twenty-four African-American slaves lived on the Price plantation in 1820, though the cabin is not original to this property and was brought here to illustrate life for early black people of the area. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children by appointment.
At Walnut Grove Plantation, 1200 Ott Shoals Road in Roebuck, the family cemetery has graves that historians speculate where the enslaved black laborers for the Charles Moore family. Dating to 1767, Walnut Grove is open Tuesday-Sundays, April-October Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children. Nearby, on private land on Stillhouse Road, the remnants of a chimney from a slave cabin can be found.
After visiting all these sites in Spartanburg County, you can retire for the evening at the beautiful Clevedale Inn, the only local bed & breakfast in the county owned by an African-American couple, Paul and Pontheolla Abernathy. This Colonial style historic inn, built in 1913, was once owned by Conrad Cleveland Jr. and is rich with history and breathtaking scenery. The gardens, with a mixture of different shrubs, trees, ivy and fountains, offer the perfect setting for meditation and more. To enjoy the full experience, you must stay a night or two!
Bea Hill, Produced in cooperation with the HubCity Writers Project.
Bea Hill is a local writer and historian born in Spartanburg. She is a teacher and advocate for her former neighborhood, the Southside.