Kingstree native and historian Michael Allen spearheaded the venture. The vision started with a visit to a big box store after the COVID-19 outbreak. He and other shoppers were wearing a mask and he thought to himself why they have to take such measures to provide for their families. He continued to think about that moment and wondered how those people are feeling and a lightbulb went off. “This looked like a history project to me,” said Allen who has been a part of many endeavors, such as playing an instrumental role in the creation of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission.
Allen contacted many, including SCAAHC Chairperson Jannie Harriot and suggested creating a way to capture the experience and the thoughts of African Americans during the pandemic. He reached out to Eric Emerson, director of South Carolina’s Department of Archives and History to inquire whether any information was captured during the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Very little was recorded and Allen knew that 100 years from now, people searching for information back to 2020 would have the same experience as those searching that time period. Allen would go on to reach out to many others to find a way of creating a mechanism that could implemented across the state to reach people in an effort to hear their voices. Allen’s voice was heard.
The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission has opened a web portal to capture African American impressions of the Coronavirus’ impact on their lives, and to establish a permanent record of the African American experience during this historic event. According to a press release issued by the SCAAHC, the portal “Black Carolinians Speak: Portraits of a Pandemic” invites African Americans in South Carolina to submit stories, photography, video, art work, poetry and other material that illustrates their impressions of the pandemic. “The goal is to gather as much information as possible about how this pandemic affected us, how did we respond, how did we cope,” said SCAAHC Chairperson Jannie Harriot. “Future generations are going to be as curious about the Coronavirus’ effect on our community as we are today about the Spanish flu of 1918. They will likely seek to understand how this global pandemic redefined what it meant to be Black in South Carolina and how the crisis altered the rhythms and traditions of African American life in the Palmetto State.”
According to the press release, data from the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control suggests that African Americans have been disproportionately impacted by the Coronavirus. As of this week, 56 percent of those who have died from the virus in South Carolina were Black, but African Americans are only 27 percent of the state’s population. The pandemic has also exacerbated existing inequalities and disparities in education, health, and employment.
The Commission welcomes comments from all African American citizens across the state of South Carolina. Some professions such as healthcare, law enforcement, tourism, as well as the faith-based and service industries were seriously impacted by COVID 19, and the Commission is particularly interested in those voices. Additionally, the Commission welcomes comments from students and teachers from across the state due to the disruption that occurred in the educational process.
All material submitted to the portal will be housed in the SCAAHC’s collection at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Project leaders also plan to schedule oral history interviews with interested persons. “We don’t want this historic event to be chronicled without the African American voice,” Harriot said. “It’s our obligation to make the historic record as complete as possible by including the Black perspective.”
About the SCAAHC
Established through a joint resolution passed by the South Carolina General Assembly on May 14, 1993, the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission (SCAAHC) is devoted to preserving and promoting the rich history and culture of African Americans in the Palmetto State. Since its inception, the Commission has enhanced the efforts of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History to document and educate the public about the Black experience in South Carolina through cultural programs, curriculum development, teacher training workshops, the publication of books and online resources, and the preservation of historic spaces.
For more information, contact Chairperson Jannie Harriot at 843-332-3589 or firstname.lastname@example.org.