Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Visit to South Carolina

By Jean Mavrelis - 07.25.2011

Tom and I were in Charleston last week and we went on a Black History Tour.  We were the only white folks on the tour.

As always, the Black folks welcomed us, and the tour guide made mention of white folks who helped the cause over the years, starting with the abolitionists.

We asked our tour guide if racial attitudes had changed, and he said yes, mostly because of all the northerners who had moved to the area. At least that was his opinion.

When I asked if there were many Latinos in the area, he said no, but that there was an area at the hotel we stayed at where eastern European women stayed who were brought over on work permits by a contractor to do domestic work at the hotel.

We took a ride out to Sullivan’s Island – where Africans were held in quarantine before being sold into slavery.

Gullah low country is where the Stono Rebellion took place and where  Denmark Vesey’s story unfolded.

White folks were afraid of the lowlands because of the danger of malaria. Before Africans came to what’s now South Carolina, rice was unknown. Our guide explained that Africans also brought peanuts to America.

He also sadly shared that the average life span of a male slave in South Carolina was 32.  It was cheaper to work a man to death than take care of him.

We spoke to one African American driver who told us he grew up in Charleston.  He was about 55 years old.  He said when he was a kid he went to a Black school.  “Funny thing is”, he said, “The white school was named ‘Whiteside’, and half my family is light skinned because we’re descendents of Whiteside – but we couldn’t go to school there until after busing started.”

He says he doesn’t hold a grudge against anybody – he’s got a degree in history. He said, “slavery is just how the history of the world has been”.

When we sat having breakfast in our hotel, I overheard some Southern folks talking some small talk, being friendly with each other.  One said he was an MD. The pace of their conversation was so much slower than what I’m accustomed to in the North and the polite exchanges of these folks seemed almost from another era.

Before we left we did a diversity seminar, and one of the Southern white men delighted all of us during the gender program when he had an “aha” moment about the importance of mothers in the south.  He said, “You know, when we’re going over to meet with family on Sunday, we say we’re going to see ‘mama and them’.  Funny thing is”, he added, “We still say that even though she passed on. “

Last time I was in South Carolina was during the Viet Nam war.  I was teaching GED to marines at Camp Le Jeune, and we took a trip to Myrtle Beach.  The number one song at the time was Tina Turner singing “Rollin’ on the River…big wheel keep on turnin”.

The other song that resonates with me is “Going to Carolina in my Mind”.

Yep, that’s for sure.

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