‘Rise Up!’ Event Focuses on Charleston’s African Ancestors

‘Rise Up!’ Event Focuses on Charleston’s African Ancestors

So much can be gleaned from our ancestors. That’s the notion underlying a novel event – Rise Up! – that will take place in the College’s Alumni Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018, at 5 p.m.

The subtitle for this gathering: “Summoning the power and presence of African ancestors in Charleston,” suggests that it will be a very impactful occasion.

Professor Ajani Ofunniyin, one of the co-creators of Rise Up!

The event will begin with students from professor Ajani Ofunniyin‘s class curating an African fashion show in Cistern Yard, along with poetry readings. Immediately following that, student ambassadors from the Sustainability Literacy Institute will describe the Hidden Hands Initiative, a student-led grassroots effort aimed at recognizing the enslaved Africans who built much of the College’s campus. Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg and College of Charleston Interim President Stephen C. Osborne ’73 will also speak about this project and the city’s and College’s commitment to racial equality.

Attendees will also hear about ongoing research pertaining to the 36 African descendants whose remains were discovered in 2013 during renovations made to Charleston’s Gaillard Center. Among the presenters will be senior biology major Adeyemi Oduwole, who received an Early Career Grant from the National Geographic Society to conduct important DNA research. This past summer Oduwole analyzed the genomic diversity and genetic ancestry of 27 people of African descent living in Charleston today. He’ll share the stage with Theodore Schurr and Raquel Fleskes of the University of Pennsylvania, where Oduwole conducted his research.

Eric Poplin from cultural resources management firm Brockington and Associates; Nic Butler, a historian with the Charleston County Public Library; and Suzanne Abel, a forensic anthropologist from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, will shed light on what is known about the 36 individuals whose remains were found.

Also presenting Wednesday evening will be art and architectural history professor Nathaniel Walker, who, along with students from his Architecture of Memory class, will present proposed designs for a memorial honoring the Anson Street ancestors. A panel discussion will delve deeper into the best ways to memorialize those ancestors. Speakers will include Joe McGill, of the Slave Dwelling Project, Heather Hodges, of the Gullah-Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission, and Julia Eichelberger, who directs the College’s Southern Studies Program and is part of CofC’s new Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston.

“Our hope is that this unique occasion will provide useful information for those who participated in the DNA sample collection,” says Ofunniyin, who also founded and directs the Gullah Society. “We are excited that so many people support this project. It’s refreshing that they’re curious about ancestral connections with the remains of the 36 individuals who will eventually be reinterred, and curious about the continent of Africa. I think the potential for establishing such linkages is amazing!”

Rise Up! is being orchestrated by a host of community partners, including the College’s Sustainability Literacy Institute, the Gullah Society, the Charleston County Public Library, The Slave Dwelling Project, the University of Pennsylvania, the Coastal Community Foundation, the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting. In addition, the following offices from the College are also supporting this event: the Office of Institutional Diversity, Office for the Academic Experience, Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, African American Studies Program, the Department of Biology and the Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program.