Please welcome Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium. Wofford College is the sixth school in the state of South Carolina to sign on to this growing movement of schools not only coming to terms with their own difficult pasts but now increasingly doing so in collaborative partnership with their communities. Here at USS headquarters, we are excited to see what Wofford College and Spartanburg, South Carolina, can do as they work together on an ambitious program.
Spartanburg and Wofford College are connecting the power of archival activism and public scholarship in the Humanities to racial equity activism in our community, supported by the Council of Independent Colleges and a Mellon grant through University of Michigan’s Center for Social Solutions. Under the aegis of this “Crafting Just Futures” grant, Wofford College and its local partners are committed to crafting a just and democratic future in Spartanburg by illuminating the wrongs of the past, as well as present day inequities, and initiating reparations grounded in local history and community voice.
In partnership with their local community, they have selected two focus areas for this endeavor. One area of the proposal involves reckoning with Spartanburg’s past and present as reflected in its memorial landscape. Spartanburg and Wofford plan to collaborate with the Equal Justice Initiative to explore memorialization possibilities for the traumatic extrajudicial killings of Spartanburg’s black citizens during Reconstruction. During this process, they will be able to better assess the narratives conveyed by the Wofford campus and city landscapes, identifying, for example, where they repress certain memories and celebrate others.
Another focus area will undertake a comprehensive, antiracist look at what it means to be at home in Spartanburg–from researching patterns of residential segregation, antiblack campaigns of displacement, and pathways to homeownership. Spartanburg and Wofford research partners will also trace histories of land seizure and displacement in public archives, including testimony from the 1871 Federal Commission hearings that collected testimony against the KKK in Spartanburg and other cities throughout the Southeast.
These two focus areas intersect meaningfully in that they both specifically address the way Spartanburg community spaces reflect the exclusion of black citizens’ histories in public memory and landscape, and the exclusion of Spartanburg citizens from land access and the resources associated with living in thriving spaces. Grant-funded, collaborative activities will include research, digitization days, community listening projects, public art, regular community fora, teach-ins, dialogue sessions that encourage neighbors to share their stories with each other and the larger community, and new course creation. Through these activities, Wofford College and the Spartanburg community hope to create a model for best practice in academic and community-engaged reparations work.
We know Wofford College will benefit from joining Universities Studying Slavery (USS) and are truly excited to see how their impressive community-based project can help other member institutions expand their own programs.