carolina lowcountry and atlantic world
Well, there you have it. A few months ago I received an invitation to join/lead a panel discussion at the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World conference, CLAW for short. Should be terrific fun. It being held in Charleston, that's a promising start.
Joining me on the panel will be my friend, Dr. Alison McLetchie of Claflin University, and a couple of subject matter experts I will meet in advance of the event--Dr. John Coggeshall of Clemson University, and Frank Martin. The topic is near and dear to my heart: "Trust us this is history too: Non-historians doing history."
Hey! That's me!
I am honored. When I set out to photograph a few local landmarks in the fall of 2011, I had no particular plan or objective, just this appreciation for our state's terrific history and interesting people. And nothing in the intervening years has changed--can't wait for Charleston event, and beyond.
Prior to my journey among South Carolina’s 1400+ landmarks, I didn’t know of Julius Rosenwald. Didn’t know of his contributions to American philanthropy, didn’t know he was an advisor to several presidents, didn’t know he developed Sears into an iconic American company, didn’t know the role he played in building over 5000 schools for black kids that stretched like beacons of hope from Maryland to Texas. Today, just a few hundred of these “Rosenwald Schools” are still standing, which is why, in 2011, the remaining were accorded “National Treasure” status by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Such a designation should similarly be accorded Julius Rosenwald.
In 1854, Samuel Rosenwald, Julius’ father, left his home in Germany to seek his fortune in America. When he arrived in Baltimore, he had $20 in his pocket, and like many Jews of the era, skills in clothing and retail. He immediately “took to the road” and sold an assortment of goods ranging from watches to thread in the Appalachian region. It was into this solid middle class family that Julius was born. In the late 1800s, Julius worked for several companies on several different ventures, none of which were especially profitable. In 1895, however, his fortunes changed when he accepted a position in Chicago with Sears. When Rosenwald joined Sears, that company, and its main competitor, Montgomery Ward, were in the process of revolutionizing the retail industry.
At the dawn of the mass merchandising era, America was still mostly rural, and rural folks depended on the local general store—and its accompanying limited inventories and high prices—for nearly all of their goods. But three factors—the railroad, the telegraph, and “rural free delivery”—changed these marketplace dynamics.
In the case of Sears, the increasing availability of rail service made it possible to inexpensively ship “mail-order” goods, the invention of the telegraph reduced the length of time it to place orders with suppliers, and rural free delivery meant that thick Sears product catalogue could be inexpensively mailed to most households. Rosenwald’s keen operational mind and personal integrity were of great value to Richard Sears, the founder and consummate salesman. If, for example, Mr. Sears had no qualms about shipping a large blue flannel large shirt to a customer who had ordered a red medium, Rosenwald did, and used his genius to correct such matters. When Mr. Sears finally stepped aside, Rosenwald became president and CEO in November, 1908. During his 16 years tenure he grew the company and earned a fortune. In 1912, his net worth was around $23 million, or the equivalent of nearly $500 million in 2013 dollars.
Many great American fortunes were made during the late 1800s. Cornelius Vanderbilt, with his near monopoly ownership of the nation’s rail system, achieved a net worth of $100 million. Sadly, he was a cruel capitalist in an unregulated era and had little regard for his employees. On the other hand, John D. Rockefeller started Standard Oil, earned an incredible fortune, and today is remembered for his great philanthropy. Andrew Carnegie helped build the American steel industry, and became one of the richest men of his time. Later in his life, Carnegie sold his steel business and gave his collected fortune away to cultural, educational and scientific institutions for "the improvement of mankind."
In his book, Inside "American Philanthropy," scholar Waldemar Nielsen, compares and contrasts Rockefeller, Carnegie and Rosenwald. He views Rockefeller as “a strategic or executive donor,” and adds that Rockefeller saw the main task of philanthropy as attacking the root cause of distress. Carnegie “was the most generous of this great threesome,” including a “boosterism for everything in which he was involved.” Rosenwald was “the most committed to making American democracy work in the struggle against racial and religious intolerance.” Nielsen adds that Rosenwald’s philanthropy “was down to earth, flexible, compassionate, and people, rather than institution, centered.”
Peter M. Ascoli is Julius Rosenwald’s grandson. In "Julius Rosenwald, The Man Who Built Sears, Roebuck and Advanced the Cause of Black Education in the South", he writes that his grandfather was indifferent to plight of the blacks until 1910. Then, Paul J. Sachs, a junior partner in the firm of Goldman Sachs, sent him two books. The first was Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, "Up from Slavery," a narrative in which this famous black educator recounts his life and struggles. The second was "An American Citizen: The Life of William H. Baldwin Jr." by John Graham Brooks. Baldwin, general manager of the Southern Railway, also headed a philanthropy that focused on the education of southern blacks and whites.
Eventually, Julius Rosenwald became a close friend of the legendary Booker T. Washington. Upon receipt of a proposal from Washington, Rosenwald provided the funding to build six trial schools for black kids in rural Alabama. They were successful and more were built. By 1932, when the construction grants ended, a staggering 5357 new buildings stood in 883 counties throughout 15 Southern states.
The last Rosenwald school was built in 1937 in Warm Springs, Georgia, to complete an agreement made earlier between Rosenwald and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The savvy Rosenwald and Washington requested that local communities raise a portion of the money to build “their school,” and they did.
Black women held “box parties," fixing boxed lunches for neighbors to bid on.
Families joined to plant an extra acre of cotton or raise hogs and chickens to be sold for the effort. Blacks who owned land might donate the school site.
Unlike Carnegie and Rockefeller, Rosenwald did not believe in never-ending trusts. Instead, he wanted to spend every last dollar on defined causes—“now”—and he did. In 1948, 16 years after his death, the Rosenwald Fund ran out of money. A decade later, with the move to integrated schools, Rosenwald Schools were abandoned.
In February, 2017, it was my honor to provide the photographs of upstate South Carolina's Rosenwald Schools in conjunction with an "Evening with Peter Ascoli.
upcountry history museum exhibit
In the spring of 2016, worked with the fabulous team at the Upcountry History Museum on a proposed exhibit, "Our Sacred Spaces." As happens in the museum business, the schedule changed, and then the content morphed. AOK with me, no matter what eventually would get displayed at the museum the highlight of the effort was the hot summer day when I took the extremely talented Executive Director, Dana Thorpe, and a few of her team members, on the backroads to visit a few churches, cemeteries and homes in an area once known as the "Calhoun Settlement."
I am not sure that big-city Dana had ever been on a one-lane dirt road with huge ruts before. Now she has. "This has been an incredible day," she offered, as we dined on sandwiches and drinks I had stuffed into my cooler in front of the stunning nearly abandoned Lower Long Cane Presbyterian Church. "Would you mind taking a few of our donors on this trip?"
So nearly a year passes.
"Hey, Bill, saw a few of your photos at the museum!"
"Oh," I said, then slowly remembering that Dana had, in fact, told me in the fall of upcoming exhibit, "Back Where I Come From: The Upcountry’s Piedmont Blues."
So if you head to the exhibit, take a glance at the mural backdrop on the left wall!
shrimp, grits & collards magazine
In the fall, 2016, I drifted down to the local bookstore to attend a book signing and discussion by one of the South's most renowned authors, Tom Poland, and his photography partner, Robert C. Clark. After the formal event, I had a chance to ask them about their travels in the state, for they, like me, enjoy life on South Carolina's backroads. Turns out they have seen a few things I have missed, and the reverse is true. We exchanged emails and promised to stay in touch.
A month or so later, Tom begins to publicize my efforts...across the state. I had asked for no such thing, but he being the kind of guy he is, well, he thought what I have done is interesting and important.
And then, The Invitation came to be a contributing writer for a start up magazine, "Shrimps, Collards & Grits." Well, yes, I will be glad to contribute I replied, delighted to be in the company of some of our area's most noted writers, including Tom, of course, and Cassandra King. Patricia Branning is the Editor in Chief of this promising magazine.
The first edition, and my story on the remarkable life of John Grimke Drayton, is due to hit the streets in February 2017.
2016 news and events
abbeville county visitors guide
A few months ago I received a query from the team at the South Carolina National Heritage Corridor, asking if they could use a few of my photographs in the upcoming edition of the Abbeville County Visitors Guide.
Oh, yes, of course, let it rip!
For those of you who haven't visited this most charming and interesting town make the trip!
national trust for historic preservation
Well, this is cool!
Beginning in late 2015 and extending into 2016, I will be providing digital content for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Said content includes images and stories from a few of my favorite South Carolina churches. No spoilers here, but I will be posting links to the content when it becomes available. And, since my content will consist of a handful of images for each church, I will be posting "bonus images" on this website.
upcountry history musuem
In late 2014, I met with the team at the Upcountry History Museum for the purpose of discussing the possibilities of an Exhibit on South Carolina's historic churches. Turns out, we all agreed-the story of our churches deserve an audience.
Sometime in the July timeframe, we will be opening an exhibit tentatively called, "Sacred Spaces." I will have more on all of this as we fully develop the program, but I am honored to be working with the leadership of the Upcounty Museum, including the Executive Director, Dana Thorpe, the Director of Programs and Marketing, Elizabeth McSherry, and the Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, Heather Yenco, on such an interesting program.
Oh, yes, kudos also to recent Furman University graduate Brian Neumann who is assisting "the team" with the effort.
amazon date nears
Well, my part is done!
Last week, I turned in all of my work related to my historic South Carolina churches project to the production team at Bellingham & Bern. For the most part, I get along with the B&B group. Been working with them for nearly two decades, and have not had more than one or two snits with them in that entire time.
Amy Burns, who was recently promoted to the Inner Circle of B&B, will be working on the final details of my eBook. Shortly, she will let me know, "The Date." I remember when Amy first came to work for B&B. A young and promising intern, I knew way back when that the ownership of B&B had hired a gem. Some focused on her marketing abilities, and to be sure, those were very refined, but what I really noticed were her brilliant skills on the basketball court. She could dribble with either hand, go behind the back, and then with the merest smirk, shoot threes like Christin Laettner. Scuh stuff all comes from hard work, hence the reason I knew even then that she would eventually end up in the Inner Circle. There are now rumors that she will assume the presidency when Mrs. B. retires.
Thanks Amy! Congratulations!