The following includes the Top 10 Black History Sites to Visit in South Carolina as determined by the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission and its membership.
Penn Center (St. Helena Island, near Beaufort)1. Penn Center (St. Helena Island, near Beaufort). The Penn School, founded in 1862 by missionaries and abolitionists, is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of sea island culture. It served as a retreat for Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s. In January 2017, the center was named the nation’s first Reconstruction Era National Monument by President Barack Obama.
Gadsden’s Wharf (Charleston)2. Gadsden’s Wharf (Charleston). Gadsden’s Wharf was a disembarkation point for enslaved Africans, especially during the final two years of the legal transatlantic slave trade. Tens of thousands of enslaved Africans arrived in the U.S. near where the South Carolina Aquarium and Charleston Maritime Center now are located. Gadsden’s Wharf is the future site of the International African American Museum.
Atlantic Beach (near North Myrtle Beach)3. Atlantic Beach (near North Myrtle Beach). Atlantic Beach, a black-owned and governed oceanfront community, was established around 1934 as a destination for blacks denied access to other beaches because of segregation laws. The area, which included hotels, restaurants and clubs, once flourished, but desegregation triggered its decline in the 1970s.
Ronald E. McNair Life History Center (Lake City)4. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center (Lake City). Opened in 2011, the Ronald E. McNair Life History Center pays tribute to the Lake City-born astronaut and physicist who died in the 1986 Challenger Space Shuttle explosion. McNair pioneered laser technology, and he was an accomplished saxophonist. His grave and monument are located next to the museum.
Liberty Hill AME Church and Summerton High School (Clarendon County)5. Liberty Hill AME Church and Summerton High School (Clarendon County). Meetings held at Liberty Hill AME Church in the 1940s and 1950s led to local court cases that helped bring about the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954, which declared segregation unconstitutional. Nineteen members of this congregation were plaintiffs in the Briggs v. Elliott case, heard in U.S. District Court in Charleston in 1952. It was J. Waties Waring’s dissenting opinion in that case that set the stage for Brown v. Board.
African American Monument6. South Carolina State House and African American Monument (Columbia). A monument to African Americans was installed on the grounds as part of a compromise to remove the Confederate battle flag from the State House dome. The monument conveys the story of blacks in South Carolina, from their arrival as slaves to their later successes in science, the arts, law, education, sports and politics. A Main Street self-guided civil rights tour highlights important events in Columbia, from drugstore sit-ins to the removal of Sarah Mae Flemming from a city bus in June 1954.
Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site (near Aiken)7. Redcliffe Plantation State Historic Site (near Aiken). Redcliffe Plantation interprets the history of the Henleys, Goodwins and Wigfalls, families who were enslaved at properties owned by South Carolina Governor James Henry Hammond, or who worked as sharecroppers or paid employees from 1831 to 1875.
Benjamin E. Mays Birthplace (near Greenwood)8. Benjamin E. Mays Birthplace (near Greenwood). Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (1894-1984) was a Baptist minister, college president, author and civil rights pioneer. He was the eighth child of Hezekiah and Louvenia Mays, both born into slavery. Benjamin Mays, a strong opponent of segregation, was best known as president of Morehouse College in Atlanta (1940-1967). Martin Luther King Jr. described him as a “spiritual mentor.” Mays’ memoir “Born To Rebel: An Autobiography” (1971) is a civil rights classic. The house was moved to its current location and dedicated as a museum in 2011.
Springfield Baptist Church (Greenville)9. Springfield Baptist Church (Greenville). Springfield, the oldest black Baptist congregation in downtown Greenville, was founded in 1867 by 65 freed slaves and four deacons who had been members of Greenville Baptist Church (now First Baptist Church). Springfield Baptist Church was headquarters for nonviolent civil rights protests in the 1960s. On Jan. 1, 1960, a peaceful protest march began at the church and continued to the Greenville Downtown Airport. The march was organized after the keynote speaker for a state NAACP convention, Jackie Robinson, the first black Major League Baseball player, was denied use of the airport’s waiting room. The church burned in 1972 and was replaced by the present building in 1976.
McCrory's Five & Dime (Rock Hill)10. McCrory's Five & Dime (Rock Hill). This historic marker stands in front of McCrory’s Five & Dime where, on Feb. 12, 1960, black students from Friendship Junior College in Rock Hill were denied service at the lunch counter but refused to leave. On Jan. 31, 1961, 10 students from Friendship Junior College were arrested when they refused to leave McCrory’s. Nine would not pay their fines and became the first civil rights sit-in protesters in the nation to serve jail time. This new “Jail No Bail” strategy by the “Friendship Nine” was soon adopted as the model strategy for the Freedom Rides of 1961.
Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum11. Bonus site: Bertha Lee Strickland Cultural Museum (Seneca). The museum presents the history of the local African-American community, incorporating technology and tradition to create an educational experience for all ages. Rotating exhibits showcase ordinary people with noteworthy stories and achievements.