Drayton Hall will dedicate a newly created Memorial at its 18th-century African-American cemetery, one of the oldest African-American cemeteries in the nation still in use. The Memorial will honor the lives of the people of African descent—enslaved and free, named and unknown—who are laid to rest there and who contributed to Drayton Hall’s growth and development, and to that of South Carolina and the nation. Two new panels interpreting the history and significance of the Memorial and the cemetery will also be unveiled. Speakers will include Lonnie Bunch, Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History and Culture, Dr. Bernard Powers, Associate Chairman of the History Department at the College of Charleston, and Toni Carrier, Director of the Lowcountry Africana project. Drayton family descendants and descendants of the enslaved, including the Bowens family, who lived and worked at Drayton Hall before and after emancipation, will offer their personal reflections. The dedication event will be held on Saturday, October 9, from 10:00am to 12:00pm. The event is free with paid admission; seating for the general public is limited and will be available on a first-come basis. Please call (843) 769-2638 or visit DraytonHall.org for details.
“This event offers us an opportunity to honor and celebrate the people who made this place possible," said Craig Tuminaro, director of museum interpretation at Drayton Hall. "The event also demonstrates Drayton Hall’s commitment to telling an even larger, more inclusive story about those people: who they were, what their lives were like, and what became of them. As other plantation sites have found, this story is not always easy to tell but is one that needs to be shared.”
For many years, it was suspected that the cemetery had been in use before the Civil War, but it was only after recent research connected with the Memorial planning process matched a description in a mid-19th-century document to an inscription on a 1790s map that confirmed the “burying ground” dated back at least to that period—much earlier than previously thought. Then while investigating footings for the Memorial, Drayton Hall’s archaeologists made another discovery: evidence of grave shafts. Now they also knew that the sacred space of the cemetery extended beyond the area surrounded by woods and closer to the main drive. Today, 40 graves are known, but there are likely many more. It’s hoped that ongoing research will contribute to Drayton Hall’s understanding of how the grounds were used, how they changed over time, and the identity of those interred within.
The design of the cemetery’s new wrought-iron Memorial was initiated by the late Charleston blacksmith Philip Simmons and was fabricated by his protégés, cousin Joseph “Ronnie” Pringle and nephew Carlton Simmons, who carry on the traditions and work of the Simmons Blacksmith Shop. Representatives of the Philip Simmons Foundation and Blacksmith Shop will be at the event to discuss Mr. Simmons’ work, his connection with Drayton Hall, and the meaning of the Memorial and its symbolic elements drawn from Simmons’ repertoire of forms; Mr. Pringle will demonstrate blacksmithing techniques using traditional tools. In addition to the dedication of the Memorial, two new interpretive panels will be unveiled. The first incorporates three maps that visually explain how the area around the cemetery has evolved from the 1800s to the present day; the second panel describes the significance of the Memorial and reflects on community and the African Americans who lived there before and after emancipation.
Plans for the Memorial and the accompanying interpretive panels have been under development since 2007 by Drayton Hall’s African-American Memorial Steering Committee led by Mr. Tuminaro. Collaborating on research and the development of appropriate interpretive methods and content, the committee includes members of Drayton Hall’s senior staff, Drayton Hall family descendant Charles Drayton, and humanities scholars Drs. Bernard Powers and Simon Lewis, both of the College of Charleston. Steering committee community members include former chair of the Board of Trustees for the Charleston County School District Elizabeth Alston, Bowens family descendants Rebecca Campbell and Catherine Braxton, and Rossie Colter and Ronnie Pringle of the Philip Simmons Foundation, who focused on audience development and assessed the project’s ability to meet the community and visitors’ needs.
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