Team members: Robert Behre, Gina Ellis-Strother, Chris Harvey, Anita Huggins, Matt Johnson, Kristen Lanier, Tonya Matthews, Evelyn Oliveira, Richard Waring

Along the southeastern coast of the eastern United States lies a key and endangered historical treasure: African American settlement communities. The earliest communities trace their roots to the 1860s, though some formed decades later.  These communities are on family land belonging to descendants of enslaved people who were either able to buy or somehow acquire land. Today, many of these communities survive with descendants of original community members and landscapes reflecting their late 19th century origins. These communities are of significant cultural and historical importance, but they face several dangers today, from encroaching development, lands owned by heirs without clear title, and other pressures. These communities have been historically underserved and ignored. That is slowly changing for the better, but the pressures on the communities also are getting greater.

Settlement communities are likely to experience:

  • Inequitable assessments for tax purposes thus making residents pay higher taxes
  • Vulnerability to forced partition sales
  • Heir’s property situations where clear ownership is difficult to establish and may lead to loss of property
  • Increased taxes after title issues are resolved
  • Lack of resources to preserve communities

Unity Among Communities seeks to create an event and a space for African American settlement communities to meet at the International African American Museum (IAAM) in Charleston, SC.  The inaugural event is to take place on December 13, 2022. Members of several settlement communities in the East Cooper area will be invited. The event will include a guided tour of the IAAM, a catered lunch and recording of interviews of key community leaders.  Group members will serve as facilitators of discussions around the following questions:

  • What concerns you most about the future of your community? What are the important issues?
  • What would a yearly day at the International African American Museum look like?
  • Who is missing from the table today? Who would you like to invite for next year?

Project Mission:  To create an event at the International African American Museum in downtown Charleston, S.C., for settlement communities to gather, network and strengthen connections in the years to come.

Project Objectives:

  • Honor the historical importance of these communities by providing this event for their leaders
  • To bring together leaders of different settlement communities for an event at the International African American Museum
  • To record interviews with key leaders of the settlement communities
  • To encourage the communities to network with one another and to learn from one another, because while each community is different and faces its own set of challenges, there are common themes.
  • To encourage future meetings annually at the IAAM to continue to advance the above objectives
  • To expand the number of settlement communities at this annual event, as community leaders desire and as practical considerations allow.

Additional Benefits:

  • Settlement community leaders get an exclusive, first-look at the International African American Museum (IAAM) before opening day in January 2023
  • Community leaders are offered a space at IAAM where they can meet yearly going forward
  • The communities are expected to be given more visibility through future press coverage of this initiative begun by the museum and the Furman Diversity Leaders Initiative program and publications
  • Key community leaders are interviewed and filmed for support in educating the public about their concerns
  • Though some of the communities gather on a regular basis, there are many other communities and supporting non-profits that can be invited to the table