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SOST minor Grayson Flowers: “Dig beneath the surface, for many of the greatest stories sit before us”

Posted by: Julia Eichelberger | August 13, 2020 | No Comment |

Grayson Flowers ’21, who recently completed a minor in Southern Studies, has been working to improve the public’s understanding of our past. A recent article in The College Today reported that Grayson was a researcher and writer for the Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon organized by Special Collections and the LGBTQ Life in the Lowcountry project. She has also worked for months on stories for the Charleston Justice Journey, an online interactive map of sites important to the struggle for equality in our city. Sponsored by the Preservation Society of Charleston, the Charleston Justice Journey map connects the history of these sites to the historic built environment.

Busy as she is, Grayson took the time to answer our questions about the CJJ project.

Home Page for Charleston Justice Journey websiteQ: What stories did you work on for Charleston Justice Journey?

A: I worked on many of the sites seen on the website, gaining publishing rights to images from archives, as I did for the Cannon Street All-Stars, and researching and drafting content for the Progressive Club and McLeod Plantation which are still in progress. It was a great opportunity to not only engage with history on an academic level but to go and see these sites in person and give context for what might seem to be just another parking lot or building.

Often when we talk about civil rights in the United States, we focus on the stories of John Lewis and Medgar Evers or the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but we can overlook the individuals who spent every day “fighting the good fight.” All of these stories and events make the history of the city so rich, and it’s incredible to have had the ability to help share just some of the many names. Of the sites currently found on the map, many people are familiar with Denmark Vesey or Judge Waites Waring, but perhaps not as familiar with the Cannon-Street All-Stars and their struggle to play baseball that caused the schism in the Little League Association that resulted in the Dixie Youth League.

Map with Cannon Street All-Stars site

It is essential, in my opinion, to bring this struggle to the forefront and understand these experiences in order to make any headway or substantial change in our country; the adage “nothing is new, it is just forgotten” is exceptionally true for those who do not know their past are doomed to repeat it.

Q: You’re a lifelong Charlestonian and a great lover of history and historic sites. Did you learn anything new from your research?

A: I set out in this internship as I do every day, with the goal of learning something new, and that goal was achieved many times over. Some figures like Denmark Vesey were ones I had encountered in my Charleston history courses at Ashley Hall, or Septima P. Clark, who has streets named in her honor. It was the places associated my own personal memories growing up that have really impacted me and highlighted how the built environment can be manipulated and sculpted to tell any narrative. Gadsden’s Wharf had long been filled with memories of rec league soccer (which I was most certainly not cut out for), and trips to the aquarium. It was a place of play and adventure . . .  Not until my Junior year at the College of Charleston did I fully understand how deep the history of the Wharf was. This internship and my professors at the College have taught me to always dig beneath the surface, for many of the greatest stories sit before us, invisible to the naked eye.

Q: You’re a Southern Studies minor as well as majoring in Historic Preservation and Community Planning and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies. Can you tell us how those three things are connected, and how they all contributed to this project?

A: Ultimately all things are related and interconnected, which is what makes minors like Southern Studies so important. They teach us how to look at things as simple as food or as complex as gender and racial inequality from multiple angles. Reading about history has always been a safe haven for me. It explained so many questions I had when I was younger and that I still have today, so when deciding what and where I wanted to study, the Historic Preservation and Community Planning major was irresistible. It allowed history to come off the pages and take on a tangible life of its own. Southern Studies presented the opportunity to hone in on questions of identity and how my experiences shape who I am. This examination of self and why things are the way that they are, and a desire to do something about injustices and issues I saw, led me to the Women’s and Gender Studies minor. Preservation is so much more than just liking a building because it is pretty or because it is old. It is about how it makes us feel and how that love and understanding leads people to fight every day to protect them as part of our community. It is crucial to have a background in other fields and in people, to be able to take a step backward and see why there are such strong opinions about monuments like the Calhoun Monument that no longer towers over Marion Square. These three programs of study all blend together when working on a project like this, because knowing our history and how there are all of the intersectional forces in play at any given time, gives us the strength to address the bigger questions about what we do and do not preserve. The generations-long efforts to villainize some while honoring others is evident in the lack of physical structures that are still intact regarding the Civil Rights Movement and slavery, not only here in Charleston but across the United States.

It is easy to look back and say that I would have done this or I would have done that, but to have risked it all the way that the Grimke Sisters or Judge Waites Waring did and be shunned from the only home they have ever known, shows that these revolutionaries were willing to give up their lives for the sake of what is right. Recognizing these intersecting circumstances and context makes the stories and the history so much more powerful to me.

Q: What’s next? What projects do you hope to take on this coming year and after C of C?

A: Given the current state of things, I plan to spend this next semester continuing my studies here at the College and trying to make the most of the time I still have here. I hope to intern elsewhere in the country, whether it be preservation or civil rights related, in order to return to Charleston with a new and fresh perspective that will allow me to advocate more effectively for the issues of flooding, new developments, and collective history. I most intend to continue trying to learn as much as I can about everything that I can.

Thanks, Grayson. We’re very proud of your excellent work and your commitment to making our region better.

under: African American Studies, C of C Program in Southern Studies, Charleston, Charleston History, Historic Buildings, Markers, Monuments, Social Activism in the South, Students, Uncategorized

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