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Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont of South Carolina Collection

Identifier: Mss-0282

Scope and Contents

In 2021-2022, the collection of oral histories were digitized and made available online at

This collection contains audio and VHS cassettes, contact prints, photographs, and negatives. This material documents research conducted from 1982, 1989-1990 regarding local black communities in the Upper Piedmont of South Carolina.

One hundred-eighteen audiocassettes document interviews with local African American families. Typical subjects covered in the interviews include: family ancestry, economic profiles, religious life, education, and social interactions. Five VHS cassettes document lectures, group discussions, a dramatic reading performed by actors, and the opening reception of the Black History in the Upper Piedmont Exhibit.

There are also numerous contact prints, photographs, and negatives that depict individuals, buildings, maps, and documents. This material was originally utilized for display in the traveling exhibit.


  • 1982, 1989-1990


Biographical / Historical

This investigative project sought to explore and preserve aspects of the local African American community specifically within the South Carolina counties of Anderson, Oconee, and Pickens. Scholars had previously made note of the fact that there had been little, if any, analytical or documentary data collected regarding the black community with respect to the South Carolina Upper Piedmont area.

Both the need for and the timing of an investigative project seemed to be at a critical point in 1989-1990. From a purely historical point of view, written documentation covering broad areas of the local African American community was necessary in order that a more comprehensive overview of black heritage in South Carolina, as a whole, could be made. This project sought to complement research that had already been carried out in both the Midlands and Low country of the state.

To gain relevant information from those individuals closely associated and involved with the pertinent facts and time periods while they were still living was extremely important. These were among the last generations of blacks who sat as children and listened to stories passed down by older relatives who were former slaves. The slave generation largely continued folk traditions of oral, rather than written history. First-hand knowledge of life during that time period threatened to be lost forever, as many of the individuals who had heard of such experiences were already well into their elderly years by the time that research for the project was initiated in the early 1990s.

The project's overall parameters involved several stages of activity. First, the community and its institutional resources as they existed and evolved during the time period of 1865-1920 were studied. The preservation of black culture in the area was utilized by way of oral interviews of older members of the community and through the duplication of relevant photographs and documents. The inventorying of black cemeteries was also attempted through the transcription of readable headstones along with researching information regarding those interred without markers. Lecture series, dramatic readings, and personal presentations utilized the research in programs presented to the public. The project findings were then put on a public exhibit that traveled around South Carolina until 1994. The final aspect of the project involved the permanent archival preservation of the interview cassettes, along with copies of documents and photographs, at Clemson University's Special Collections.

The timetable for the project was as follows. Starting in July 1989, the advisory committee and assistant directors began the project by setting forth detailed plans and organizational specifics; an intense phase of research began in August 1989. In late August 1989, there was a public forum titled Celebrating Black Heritage: The Importance, Difficulties, and Techniques of Preserving Black Culture along with oral history training workshops that were to provide an opportunity for the project staff to meet with the black community, excite them regarding involvement in the project, and enlist their help in providing documents, photographs, and leads for interviews. Starting in January 1990, work began regarding the collection of oral history interviews along with the duplication of photograph and manuscript materials. In April 1990, there was a series of public presentations based on the research collected. On April 4, 1990, a lecture series titled The Tapestry of Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont, 1865-1920: Overview of Burdens, Perseverance, and Accomplishments was given at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton, SC. In this presentation, W.J. Megginson, J.D. Rutledge, and Ann Ruth Moss discussed some of their research findings and encouraged additional local preservation of black heritage. On April 17, 1990, a series of group discussion workshops titled The Upper Piedmont Heritage: Perspectives from the Community, from the Low Country, and from Virginia were presented in which both academic scholars and local individuals related experiences and findings regarding their own personal research. In addition, beginning on April 26, 1990, a presentation of dramatic readings titled Telling Our Own Story: Voices from the Past--A Dramatic Reading of Black Life in the Upper Piedmont Based on Oral History Interviews with the Black Community was given. During these events, actors and actresses read from interviewee transcripts gathered during the project that reflected local black experiences and culture. Finally, on September 15, 1990, the Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont traveling exhibit was first unveiled; this exhibit traveled around the state of South Carolina for four years. By 1995, the project interviews, documents, and photographs had been placed in Clemson University's Special Collections for permanent archival preservation. Copies of the interviews were also placed within the Pendleton District Historical, Recreation and Tourism Commission archives.

Primary investigative interests in regards to the oral interviews explored five broad areas: family ancestry, economic profile, religious life, education, and social interaction.

Included within the focus area of family ancestry were genealogies including birth/death year approximations, birthplaces and locations of extended residences, wedding ceremonies and marriages, as well as notable deaths and funeral practices.

The economic profile includes questions regarding employment opportunities (male/female, adults/young, black/white), commercial/economic relations between the races, and sources of food, clothing, and crafts. In addition, ups and downs of economic survival including good and bad fortune, natural disasters, and epidemics are discussed.

Religious life in the black community covered prominent denominations in the local area, names of churches and their origins, identities of ministers, camp meetings, singing conventions, schools and cemeteries associated with specific churches, and any religious cooperation between blacks and whites.

The educational focus began with elementary, secondary, and college opportunities available to blacks. A very important aspect of local educational life covered here is the foundation and growth of Seneca Institute (later Seneca Junior College). Individuals were encouraged to recall the identities of family members who were first to be educated [each level of education included]. Also discussed were notable local educators, racial conflict over education, and local civic groups and organizations that worked to improve education.

The final area of interest was social interaction. Specific areas of discussion include civic and political activities, civil rights, welfare groups, burial societies, holidays/celebrations, and athletics. Conflicts within the community such as the relationships between newly emancipated slaves and free persons of color after the Civil War, marriage relationships, and mixed-race individuals were covered. Issues such as lynching, romantic/sexual relations between races, law enforcement's treatment of blacks, employment and educational discrepancies between races, and segregation was discussed in depth as well.

There are in addition numerous contact prints, photographs, and negatives that depict individuals, buildings, maps, and documents. Among the depicted individuals are Gertrude Littlejohn, Iris Chamblee, Annie Webb, and the Seneca Junior College class of 1927. Buildings such as the Keese Barn, Abel Elementary School, and King's Chapel AME Church are also depicted. Copied documents on photograph quality prints include census and school records, deeds, and sharecropper and freedman's contracts. This material was originally utilized for the display of the traveling exhibit.


1.63 Cubic Feet (7 boxes containing 118 audiocassettes, 5 VHS cassettes, photographs, contact prints, and negatives)

Language of Materials



The Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont Project, under the direction of Dr. W.J Megginson in the early 1990s, documented the rich heritage of the local African American community through photographs, oral history interviews, and documentary research.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Received from W.J. Megginson. Formerly accession numbers: 91-29, 91-38, 94-136, 95-29, and 95-126.

The 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. Additional funding was provided in part by the South Carolina Humanities Council.

Related Materials

Mss 35--American Association of University Women-Clemson Chapter (Robert Reid interview)

Mss 68--J.C. Littlejohn Papers (Bill Greenlee interview c. 1950's)

E185.63 .M44 1994 Black Soldiers in World War I: Anderson, Pickens, And Oconee Counties, South Carolina: With A Discussion of Pensions For Civil War Slave Labor / W.J. Megginson

E185.93.S7 M44 1991 Tracing Your Family Roots, Before Slavery And Shortly Thereafter: Stuck In Your Family Tree? / W.J. Megginson

Processing Information

Short abstracts of approximately 11 interviews were prepared by the Pendleton District Historical, Recreation and Tourism Commission during the 1990s. In 2003, Timothy Blakeney and Samantha Gross prepared abstracts to approximately 29 interviews as part of History 893 Archives Practicum. In 2005 as part of a re-grant project from the South Carolina State Historical Records Advisory Board funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, Carl Redd edited the abstracts and completed the processing of all interviews with help from student assistant Allison Scheele.

The conversion of this finding aid to Encoded Archival Description format was made possible with a grant from the South Carolina State Historical Records Advisory Board in 2009-2010. The finding aid was prepared for encoding by Jen Bingham.

A Guide to the Black Heritage in the Upper Piedmont of South Carolina Collection, 1982, 1989-1990
Carl Redd
2010 April 26
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Clemson University Libraries Special Collections and Archives Repository

230 Kappa St.
Clemson SC 29634 U.S.A. US