Francis Marion University Becomes Seventh School in South Carolina to Join Universities Studying Slavery (USS)!

As the 2021 fall semester gets underway nationwide here in the United States, Universities Studying Slavery (USS) is happy to share news with everyone about our continued expansion. Today, Francis Marion University in South Carolina becomes the seventh school in South Carolina to sign on, joining the Citadel, Clemson University, The College of Charleston, Furman University, University of South Carolina, and Wofford College as USS schools in the state.

Racially integrated since its founding in 1970, Francis Marion University (FMU) is among the few public universities in South Carolina with no direct institutional relationship with slavery or Jim Crow. However, the land on which the campus sits and the region where it is located certainly do. From the early nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, what is today FMU’s main campus was one of two large plantations in the Mars Bluff area of Florence County, worked by enslaved laborers, many of whom continued as sharecroppers and tenants after the abolition of racialized slavery in 1865.

FMU primarily serves the Pee Dee region, a twelve-county area of South Carolina with a largely overlooked rich history. While the university is several miles outside of the city limits, it has a strong presence in Florence with five educational and community-centered buildings located downtown. FMU’s initiative builds upon and deepens these relationships with the neighboring community through research and education. The campus and the Pee Dee offer a compelling collection of sites for the study of Black history in slavery and freedom.

The FMU initiative’s mission is to create a robust, comprehensive, and accessible understanding of the Pee Dee region’s historical connections to slavery and its legacies through campus and community collaboration. Its vision is that through that collaborative work, the people of the Pee Dee will be empowered to create a just and unified community.

FMU’s initiative focuses on youth and family in its first phase. One research project in this phase focuses on the hewn-timber cabins on campus. Enslaved peoples built eight of these cabins in the 1830s, and two of them remain. We are working to learn more about the people who built and lived in the cabins.

Building upon the work of one of the landholders’ descendants, Amelia Wallace Vernon, FMU is doing further archival research and conducting additional oral histories. Some of the people who last lived in the cabins, descendants of the enslaved, are still living in the Mars Bluff area. Another project involves a Black cemetery on campus. Using a combination of ground-penetrating radar and archival materials, FMU hopes to learn more about the people buried in the cemetery. The school is working with local African American faith and community leaders to ensure that they proceed in this work with the appropriate sensitivity and that the needs and expectations of the community continue to be served.

As always, we are glad to have Francis Marion University join the movement, we look forward to watching their program unfold, and to working collaboratively with them and our many USS member schools on future initiatives.