News: More than 300 African-American historical sites in SC are yours to discover with new app
When Dawn Dawson-House began working on a travel guide aimed at showcasing African-American history, she thought she would find about 50 sites in South Carolina — mostly based in Charleston.
When she found and read about more than 300 sites of historical significance, she was blown away.
McCrory’s in Rock Hill is the spot where the “Friendship 9” fought for an integrated lunch counter with a sit-in. The freedom anthem “We Shall Overcome” was first sung outside a cigar factory in Charleston. Springfield Baptist Church in Greenville served as the starting point for a march in 1960 protesting segregated areas at the airport.
“I’m a 55-year-old adult, and I still didn’t know all that was happening,” she said. “Yet there is so much.”
These sites and more than 300 others are part of the Green Book of South Carolina, a digital travel guide for phone or desktop that documents, describes and maps sites across South Carolina that are critical to the timeline of African-American history.
The name pays homage to the original Green Book, known as “The Negro Motorist Green Book.” First published in 1936 by New York City postman Victor Green, the Green Book was a travel guide to safe harbors and welcoming establishments across the United States during the Jim Crow era. Several businesses in South Carolina were listed in various editions of the Green Book.
The revamped and digitized Green Book, created last year by the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism and the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, is a repackaging of history — created by African-Americans for everyone.
The Green Book’s creators hope it will boost African-American tourism, said Dawson-House, who is on the commission and is director of communications for PRT.
Each year, the agency surveys visitors to the Palmetto State to get a sense of what they like to do. About 9 percent of tourists surveyed last year reported enjoying rural sightseeing, just trailing the 10 percent of tourists who sought historic sites and churches during their vacation.
While these numbers pale in comparison to beach-goers, who comprised 30 percent of tourists, Dawson-House said historical tourists are the most loyal.
Tourism is like fashion, she added.
“Girlfriend getaways … Dudes on the Dunes,” she said. “Travel has trends. The longest standing trend always happens to be history, heritage and culture.”
Alphonso Brown, a former schoolteacher who is black, operates Gullah Tours. He has said traveling and vacation is not much a part of black life.
“When they do travel, they’re visiting friends and family members,” Brown told the newspaper in 2016. “Most of the time when they do that, they don’t take tours.”
The long-awaited International African American Museum is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 near the Charleston Maritime Center on the site where about 100,000 slaves from Africa stepped onto shore.
Because of how African-American history was viewed, documented and explained, many historical markers, such as the lunch counter in Rock Hill, are being “hidden in plain sight,” said Michael Allen, a retired historian with the National Park Service and one of the founding members of the S.C. African American Heritage Commission.
Allen, 57, is a native of Kingstree. He said he remembers what it was like to vacation across South Carolina as a black family. He recalled lengthy trips to Florida to visit family.
While his family did not have a copy of the Green Book, they followed a list of precautions known by most African-American families: To minimize stops, lunches were packed and eaten in the car. Rural towns were avoided.
“Out of a challenging experience, we’re offering a unique opportunity to learn about the history of African-Americans in the state of South Carolina,” he said.
The website is greenbookofsc.com. On a given day, Dawson-House said, the site garners 200 unique visitors. After media coverage, that number spikes to about 1,000.
The site won the 2017 Palmetto Award of Excellence from the South Carolina Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators for innovation and marketing excellence. The S.C. African American Heritage Commission also won a 2017 award for Best Niche Marketing from the Southeast Tourism Society.
The Green Book of South Carolina app is part of a larger push to focus efforts on black history tourism. For example, Dawson-House said, Florida has recognized 21 significant sites and N.C. African American Heritage Commission is starting its own Green Book project. Parks officials in Georgia have reached out to Dawson-House saying they are considering a similar project, she said.
“I’ve always been told by my history professors that if we don’t remember the past, we end up repeating some of the mistakes,” Dawson-House said. “It’s important for people to know there’s a way to survive this kind of era.”
Instead of a compilation of safe havens, the 21st Century Green Book is a compilation of culture, she said.
“It’s amazing how we evolved into travel for enriching, fulfilling, meaningful experiences,” Dawson-House said. “And both can still be called the ‘Green Book.’”
By Hannah Alani