I have researched and written architectural descriptions and histories in a variety of formats including Historic American Building Survey histories, National Register of Historic Places nominations, historic structures reports, cultural landscape reports, cultural resource survey reports, conservation reports, and historic house tours. I produced some of these architectural histories during internships or fellowships and others during my coursework in historic preservation for a client.
I wrote two architectural histories that I think are especially meaningful and exemplary samples of my work while I was a historic preservation intern with the Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF). HCF partnered with members of the African American community on James Island to write a National Register nomination of the W. Gresham Meggett Equalization School. During my internship, I researched the history of the school, participated in an oral history project with alumni, wrote the nomination, and presented it to the South Carolina Review Board with my supervisor. The W. Gresham Meggett Equalization School was built in 1951 as part of an effort to create “separate but equal” schools for black and white children.
The school was the first public high school for African American students on James Island. In spite of segregation, the school provided students with educational opportunities that were previously inaccessible. Due to the outstanding education students received at W. Gresham Meggett, many graduates went on to attend prestigious universities, becoming doctors, lawyers, educators, engineers, politicians, businesspeople, nurses, writers, military officers, professional athletes, and community leaders. Listing the school on the National Register was a first step in increasing the community group’s ability to apply for grants to make the building into a museum and community center, enabling the school building to continue to serve as space to promote social justice and upward mobility for the African American community.
During my internship with HCF, I also conducted research for HCF and the Slave Dwelling Project’s inaugural Beyond the Big House Tour. Unlike traditional house tours in Charleston that focused on the architecture and gardens of the main house, the Beyond the Big House tour took visitors into the back buildings and work yards where enslaved people lived and labored. I researched and wrote about carriage house typologies in Charleston for the tour guides’ manual. Carriage houses often had rooms for carriages and horses on the ground floor with haylofts and living quarters for enslaved people on the second floor. I also researched the lives of free and enslaved people of color who lived at several houses on the tour. I wrote the histories to be accessible to the volunteer tour guides and visitors. The Beyond the Big House tour was paradigm-shifting because it recognized the importance of enslaved and free people of colors’ contributions to Charleston’s history and presented a more inclusive story of the built environment to the public.
The history of Louis B. Middleton and his gravestone is another example of my public-facing research. The research on Middleton was part of a larger cemetery conservation project my classmates and I completed for the Mother Emanuel AME Church. Middleton was buried under the gravestone of a Confederate soldier, which has frequently been marked with Confederate battle flags. The church asked me to research whether or not Middleton had been an African American Confederate soldier.
I found that as a teenager, Middleton had served his enslaver Robert Bentham Simons as a camp attendant and cook during the Civil War. After the war, Middleton worked as a plasterer and brick mason. He and his wife Martha bought a house on Hagood Street and had two daughters. Their daughter, Ruby Middleton Forsythe became a nationally-recognized educator. As part of the creation of the Lost Cause narrative that sought to depict slavery as a benevolent institution, South Carolina extended veterans’ pensions to African Americans who had served their masters as camp cooks or body servants during the Civil War in 1923. Cash-strapped, aging African Americans like Middleton used the extension of the pension system to their advantage. After suffering from declining health for years, Middleton died in 1935 and was buried in the AME cemetery. Forsythe applied for and received a Confederate soldier’s gravestone from the U.S. War Department at no cost. The War Department also recognized African American camp attendants as Confederate soldiers by the 1930s, showing the pervasiveness of the Lost Cause narrative during the early-to-mid twentieth century. Working-class African Americans like Middleton and Forsythe used the systems designed to support the Lost Cause narrative to their financial advantage.