Alumnus’ Pursuit of Social Justice Honored With Gift to  Avery Research Center

Alumnus’ Pursuit of Social Justice Honored With Gift to Avery Research Center

The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is proud to announce new philanthropic support of its historic building and collections named in memory of College of Charleston Distinguished Alumnus Joseph “Joe” Warren Cabaniss ’47.

The gift, generously donated by Cabaniss’ sons, will bolster the Avery Research Center’s efforts of preserving and sharing stories of African Americans in the Lowcountry, from their arrival in North America through enslavement, emancipation, segregation, migration and the civil rights movement to today.

This support arrives at a pivotal point in the Avery Research Center’s history. Its home – the former building of the first accredited secondary school for African Americans in Charleston, established in 1865 – requires physical improvements to its Reading Room and collection storage spaces to expand access to its exceptional resources. The Avery Research Center is currently closed to the public while it’s undergoing renovations. The College hopes to reopen the center to the public later this year.

This “nuts and bolts” support runs the gamut, reflecting the unique needs of the 150-plus-year-old structure: high capacity storage shelving, climate control, improved security measures, and other upgrades to allow researchers the ability to engage with the Avery Research Center’s collections online and in-person.

Through its impact on both the College community and the Lowcountry region, the gift honors Cabaniss’ life-long pursuit of justice and equality.

“Our father was both a student and a teacher at the College. He enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1941, but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed his plans and he enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1942, returning to the College after the end of the war,” said his son, Stephen Cabaniss.  

As a student leader, Cabaniss’ tenure at the College was marked by academic success and social activism: A member of Pi Kappa Phi, recipient of the Bryan Mathematics Prize, and vice president of the Cliosophic Literary Society.

This commitment to excellence continued after commencement. Upon graduation, Cabaniss received the Robert Worth Bingham Prize for a speech advocating the end of racial segregation. After earning his Juris Doctorate from the University of South Carolina, Cabaniss embarked on a career as an attorney, faithfully serving his community, including as chairman of the Charleston Council on Human Relations. He also served on a committee appointed by then-South Carolina Governor Robert McNair to attempt to resolve the 1969 strike by hospital workers at the Medical University of South Carolina. In 1996, the South Carolina Law School Alumni Association recognized Cabaniss with the “Compleat Lawyer” Award. In 2006, the College of Charleston presented him with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

“We are honored and delighted by the generosity of the Cabaniss family to support the work of the Avery Research Center with a gift in honor of their late father, attorney Joseph Warren Cabaniss,” said Patricia Williams Lessane, the Libraries’ Associate Dean for Strategic Planning and Community Engagement and Executive Director of the Avery Research Center. “Their gift not only enables us to update the Avery Research Center with much needed archival and museum quality storage shelving, but it affords us the opportunity to identity and collect local archival collections that chronicle the legal pursuit of civil rights and social justice waged by African Americans and their allies here in Charleston.”

To learn more about supporting the Avery Research Center in this critical time of transformation and physical renewal, visit giving.cofc.edu/avery.