The Jubilee Project has planned an unusual and thought-provoking panel addressing the complexity of Charleston as a site of political and religious freedom and simultaneously as a site of enslavement. The public is invited on Friday, August 30, 2013 at 4 p.m. in Randolph Hall at the College of Charleston to “Charleston: Holy City and/or Slavery Central?” The panel features Professor Joe Kelly (Department of English), whose book ­The Longest Siege: Charleston, Slavery, and the Long March toward the Civil War was recently published by Overlook Press, Mark Berry, editor of the College of Charleston Magazine and author of an article on General John C. Fremont, and Joe McGill of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. After the panel discussion McGill will be continuing the work of his Slave Dwelling Project by spending the night in 16 1/2 Glebe Street in the heart of the College campus.

“The panel will be addressing one of the most important paradoxes in American political history—how a nation founded on the universal principle that all men have the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness could have remained a slave-holding nation for nearly a century after the Declaration of Independence, until the end of the Civil War,” notes Simon Lewis, Jubilee Project organizer and English professor at the College of Charleston. “The paradox is of particular interest here in Charleston, which was a focal point in the Revolutionary War, as well as the key port of entry for enslaved Africans during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the site of the secessionist movement that sparked the Civil War.”

While Charleston takes pride in a tradition of religious liberty dating back to the colonial period, and while the College of Charleston can boast of three signers of the Declaration of Independence among its founders, Joe McGill’s Slave Dwelling Project will draw attention to the fact that almost all of the College’s founders (including Rutledge, Middleton, and Heyward) were slave-owners and almost all of the College’s antebellum buildings, including Randolph Hall where the panel discussion will be held, were built by enslaved laborers.  Mr McGill’s presentation is part of his broader project to give long overdue credit to the people who put brick on brick to build the Holy City.

Professor Kelly’s new book The Longest Siege explains that while elite Charlestonians of the Revolutionary era (such as Henry and John Laurens) recognized that slave-holding was inconsistent with the revolutionary American principle of liberty, later generations came to believe that slavery was a “positive good,” and drowned out most dissenting voices on the subject.  However, that does not mean that all pre-Civil War College of Charleston dignitaries embraced the prevailing ideology of slavery.  On August 30th, 1861, exactly 152 years ago, College of Charleston alum General John C. Fremont passed the first Emancipation Proclamation of the Civil War, declaring all slaves owned by Confederate sympathizers in Missouri to be free. Because the move was politically inexpedient at that time, President Lincoln rescinded the declaration.  Mark Berry wrote about Fremont’s proclamation and his extraordinary career in general for a recent issue of the CofC Magazine and will share some of his findings. Together with Professor Kelly’s and Mr McGill’s broad-spectrum descriptions of the interactions between Charleston’s slaveholders and slaves,  Mr Berry’s discussion of Fremont will illustrate some of the complexity of the history of slavery and emancipation in Charleston, the South, and the nation.

This panel discussion is the latest in a series of events taking place across the city and the state commemorating the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s  Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, and key events associated with the Civil Rights movement, including the desegregation of Charleston County Schools in September 1963. The formal wrap-up of the Jubilee Project will take place at the College of Charleston on Veterans’ Day, November 11th, 2013.  This event will specifically commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address (November 19th, 1863) in which President Lincoln so memorably articulated the two great principles of American politics—liberty and democracy.

For more information, please contact organizer Simon Lewis at 843.953.1920 or