This Feb. 22 is a special day for me. It’s the day I take the test to become a licensed, Charleston tour guide. I know it’s not civilization rocking, but it has been on my bucket list for about 25 years.
Whenever family members or new acquaintances come to town, I take them on sightseeing tours of Charleston, often to the point of exhaustion. We do what I’ve dubbed, the east coast-west coast tour, starting at the mystical Angel Oak on Johns Island and ending at the African-American memorial on Sullivan’s Island. By nightfall we’re ready to chow down on fried flounder, gulp some sweet tea, and eat some dessert. Enter SeeWee Restaurant on Highway 17 in Awendaw.
Our too-loud dinner conversations are almost always the same: We love this place! Why did we wait so long to visit? Let’s have our next family reunion here, and on and on. There’s just something about Charleston that we all love. So yes, I want to pass this test in a big way.
But in addition to telling familiar stories, I want to share the long-neglected and still largely unknown accomplishments of my beloved ancestors. So much of Chucktown history, what she has become and what she has become known for around the world, is connected to the contributions of the enslaved people who left their mark on our city. Charleston’s history is very much a shared one. The problem, as I see it, is that much less is known about one side versus the other.
Very little of what black folks did, who they were, how they got here, or the impact of their arrival is rarely discussed in any substantial way, even on the tours. I know. I’ve been on a few.
Back in the day, the dehumanizing practice of slavery was critical to ensuring that crops would be planted. But 346 years later, some people still don’t understand why there’s a need to acknowledge anything about the humanity of the Africans who would later become African Americans.
In preparation for the exam I’ve been studying Charleston’s history, architecture (I really wish I had stayed awake in that class), Revolutionary and Civil War battles, artists, education, food, language, and, yes, even gardening. I tell you, I’m wearing my highlighters out.
I’m sure some folks are rolling their eyes and wondering why I’m being hypersensitive. Others will say I’m flat out wrong about the tours and our shared history. I get it and still have love for you, but let me prove a point. Take this quiz. Any answer you don’t know, use Google to find out. If you miss every single question, you owe me a chai latte with soy milk and throw in one of those cheese danishes, warmed up, of course.
If you know all the answers, great. I’m proud of you. Share your bragging rights with my blessing. Are you ready?
1. From what country were Charleston’s slave codes adopted?
2. In 2008 the Toni Morrison Society placed “what object” near Fort Moultrie and why?
3. What black painter is remembered for elegant portrayals of Charleston’s rising black middle class?
4. When did the transatlantic slave trade end?
5. Slaves taught their masters rice cultivation techniques. What three countries did the slaves come from?
6. What event helped usher in the Negro Seaman’s Act?
7. Name the black newspaper that began in 1898.
8. Name Charleston’s current and only weekly African-American publication.
9. Who was Dr. William Crum?
10. Who was Ernest E. Just?
11. What was the first public elementary school built for African-American children?
12. Name the hotel from the 1930s, formerly on East Bay Street, that freely accommodated African Americans.
13. Architect Harvey Gantt, a Burke High alum and the first African-American mayor of Charlotte, has designed two buildings in Charleston. Can you name them?
14. Name the only black-owned credit union in the City of Charleston.
15. Who is considered the grandmother of the Civil Rights movement?
16. Who was the first African-American woman to serve on Charleston City Council?
17. Who was the Rev. Daniel Jenkins?
18. Michelle Obama has personal ties to a neighboring coastal town? Can you name the town?
19. What is the Lena Horne-John C. Calhoun connection?
Well, how did you do? Feel free to let me know.
In the meantime, back to my studies.