Each month an item or group of items from the book, archives, manuscript or artifact holdings of Special Collections & Archives is selected for display in the Reading Room. This month’s spotlight is on The Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont Collection (Mss 282).
Compiled in 1982 and 1989 – 1990, the collection contains over a hundred audiocassettes of oral history interviews documenting the lives of African American residents in Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties of South Carolina.
The interviews focus on the participants’ memories of the early and mid-20th century, as well as stories passed down in their families from earlier generations. Most of the interviewees were in their 70s or 80s. The collection also contains a number of photographs donated by the interviewees, as well as videotapes of public programs presenting the results of the research.
Led by Dr. W. J. Megginson, the Black Heritage project was sponsored by the Pendleton District Historical and Recreational Commission, with co-sponsorship from Clemson University, Seneca River Baptist Association, and Tri-County Technical College and partial funding from the South Carolina Humanities Council. The project sought to explore five broad areas: family ancestry, economic profile, religious life, education, and social interaction.
The collection’s finding aid (see here) includes abstracts of each interview tape. A sample:
Viola Williams Interview
Biographical Note: Viola Williams was states that she was born on May 20, 1907 in Clemson, SC [death certificate suggests May 20, 1902 through February 1994]. She was the daughter of Mary Legree Wright. Mrs. Williams was a domestic worker and also a technician at Clemson University’s Long Hall bacteriology lab for 18 years. Both her mother and grandmother were domestic workers for the Calhoun family at Fort Hill. She died in 1994.
CASSETTE 1 Side 1
00:07–21:10 — Her first memories of Fort Hill can be traced to around the time she was seven years of age. Her mother was a domestic worker at the home. Her grandmother, Nancy Legree, was a slave who worked for the Calhoun and Colhoun families. Legree was born in Abbeville County. After briefly working at Fort Hill, Legree moved with Ransom Colhoun [William Ransom Colhoun — died in 1862?] to Columbia, SC. Slaves were not allowed to pray, sing, or proclaim their faith. A story was passed down to Mrs. Williams by her grandmother Legree detailing an incident that occurred to another slave while in Columbia. An older slave named Ms. Dina was overheard by Ransom Colhoun proclaiming her faith in song. When confronted, she continued to proclaim her faith even at the threat of death. After emancipation, Nancy Legree returned to the Abbeville, SC area and married a man from Charleston, SC. Pictures and news articles regarding her grandmother were destroyed in a house fire. Williams goes on to describe some of the responsibilities that her mother had as a domestic worker for Margaret, Carrie, Ida, and Rebecca Calhoun.
21:14–31:36 — Her mother lived in the servant house behind the mansion [the physical appearance of this building is described]. She can also recall that servants’ quarters were very near the contemporary location of the football stadium. The Whitt, Martin, and Dupree families lived there, among others. Williams is not sure if these buildings were pre or post Civil War era. She also recalls that the college post office was located on the upper story of the mansion for a period of time.
31:40 — Audio ends.
CASSETTE 1 Side 2
00:06–10:32 — She recalls as a youth observing her grandmother Easter Reid making coffee and grits. Easter worked on the Davis farm near Keowee, SC before moving to the Clemson/Calhoun area. Her grandmother had been a member of Abel Baptist from the very beginning of its inception; the church was originally a very simple structure.
10:35– 31:34 — Mrs. Williams gives a tour around the mansion; as each room is entered, Williams recalls how each looked when she was a child. Among the locations discussed are the outside grounds, dining room, parlor room, John C. Calhoun’s study, the Calhoun girl’s bedroom, Margaret Calhoun’s bedroom, as well as the breakfast room. She states that the outside cookhouse was not in use when she was young.
31:40 — Audio ends.
CASSETTE 2 Side 1
00:10–11:28 — Mrs. Williams’s mother had to enter and exit the mansion through a side stairwell that led to and from the basement cook-room. Williams describes some of the foods that her mother commonly cooked. She was not allowed to bring leftover meals home to the family. Lunch was the largest meal of the day; supper consisted of leftovers from this meal. Mrs. Williams describes the deaths of both her mother and father.
11:33–29:03 — Williams was born at home with the help of a local midwife named Mariah English [?]. Williams worked at the bacteriology lab at Clemson’s Long Hall for eighteen years in addition to local domestic work. Her husband worked at the Clemson dining hall for forty eight years. The group goes down to the basement area of Fort Hill; Williams describes how things looked when she was a youth. Coal was used for heating and cooking. She goes on to describe her mother’s typical routine starting at 7am in preparation for serving the Calhoun family breakfast.
29:09 — Audio ends.
Viola Williams’ mother Mary Legree Wright, date unknown: