AfriGeneas States Research Forum
[SC] Camden Neigborhoods Study
African-American neighborhoods to be study's focus
Exactly what are Camden`s historically African-American neighborhoods? That`s the question eight University of South Carolina graduate students will be trying to answer between now and the end of the semester in May.
Those students were introduced to community leaders during a special meeting Friday afternoon at the Price House, a significant African-American historical site in its own right. Launching a study of local African-American neighborhoods, Camden Historic Landmarks Commission Chairman Clarence Mahoney said the graduate students and their professor, Dr. Robert Weyeneth, had the chance to meet members of the Kershaw County Clean Community Commission, Kershaw County Historical Society and leading members of Camden`s African-American community.
According to his faculty listing on USC`s Web site, Weyeneth is a professor of history, co-director of the school`s Public History Program and the author of ``Historic Preservation for a Living City: Historic Charleston Foundation, 1947-1997.`` Among his research interests is African-American heritage preservation.
``This is only the second week of the semester and this might be the first chance these students have ever had to be in Camden,`` said Weyeneth. ``It`s basically a `getting to know you` meeting, and then we`ll be doing a driving tour of some of the neighborhoods.``
Mahoney said while Friday`s introductory meeting was not open to the general public, it is likely a public meeting related to the African-American historic neighborhood study will be held.
``Right now, we just want people to know that this is a legitimate study,`` Mahoney said. ``That these kids are not out there scoping out real estate development deals or reassessing property values.``
Mahoney said Weyeneth used Friday`s meeting to explain the purpose, goals and methodology of the study.
``From what I understand, the students will do a lot of their research on campus, but they will also be coming to Camden a lot,`` said Mahoney.
Weyeneth explained African-American heritage research has been a large part of his work since joining the USC faculty 14 years ago.
``Every year I take on a different community-based public history project where students are doing real-world work for a client,`` said Weyeneth.
Weyeneth said he was involved in the last general historic survey of Camden, conducted in 1996.
``I realized that African-American history does not appear in most written accounts,`` he said. ``At this point, we just plan to talk to longtime residents, but we may conduct more formal oral histories as we go along.``
He said he hopes the project will draw a picture of African-American history from the colonial period to the present. One of the first documents his students will be given to puzzle over is a copy of the Camden phone book from 1941.
``In that phone book, a `C` has been placed next to people`s names if they were colored. We`re hoping they will use that to determine the boundaries of the African-American neighborhoods in 1941 and how they`ve migrated,`` said Mahoney.
``Camden was small enough that another directory wasn`t printed for another 20 years, and by then the Civil Rights movement was going on,`` added Weyeneth.
He said Richard Sidebottom and Leah Brown with the S.C. Department of Archives and History (SCDAH) will join him and the students at Friday`s meeting. Sidebottom, he said, will provide a summary of how the project came to fruition; Brown is the SCDAH`s new African-American heritage coordinator.
Weyeneth said he hoped three ``products`` would be produced from the study:
* A consultant`s report that will be given to the city of Camden and SCDAH that will provide not only the city`s African-American history, but identify the types of properties significant to Camden`s African-American neighborhoods;
* a map of African-American neighborhoods in 1941, based on information gleaned from the Camden phone book; and
* a set of recommendations to take the living history beyond the end of semester.
``We might recommend a Web site be developed, walking/driving tour, museum exhibit or individual buildings for research,`` said Weyeneth. ``There are lots of possibilities.``
Mahoney said he hopes the study will also bring out the history of some neighborhoods most Camden residents have either ignored or forgotten.
``Kirkwood, in Dusty Bend north of the railroad tracks, has a history that a lot of people don`t know about,`` said Mahoney. ``Kirkwood being part of the study is not in response to anything; it just needs to be done. Studying that neighborhood`s been part of the plan all along.``
Mahoney pointed out the landmarks commission is not leading the study but is only acting as a facilitating agency. According to Mahoney, the city of Camden has budgeted up to $3,000 to help reimburse student expenses connected to the study. He said the landmarks commission will lend its space at the Price House to Weyeneth`s students when they are in town.
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