Capping a week of Juneteenth celebrations across the United States, the College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is pleased to announce receipt of materials that will offer new insights into pivotal moments in the fight for civil rights in the South Carolina Lowcountry, including a rare recording of a speech made by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during a visit to Charleston less than a year before his death.

The Eugene B. Sloan Civil Rights Collection constitutes an extraordinary archive of audiotapes, photographs, correspondence, ephemera and objects from award-winning South Carolina journalist and editor Eugene B. Sloan. Preserved by Sloan’s immediate family over more than five decades, highlights of the collection include three exceedingly rare and historically significant audio recordings:

  • Audio of Martin Luther King Jr. addressing an audience at County Hall in Charleston on July 30, 1967. King’s address runs nearly 33 minutes, with an introduction of 20 minutes from South Carolina civil rights pioneer Esau Jenkins and his granddaughter Jakki Jefferson.
  • Audio collected via Sloan’s undercover tape recorder during a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan near Charleston on the evening before King’s address at County Hall. Grand Dragon Robert Echols Scoggin of the United Klans of America can clearly be heard calling for King’s assassination, bemoaning his upcoming visit to Charleston.
  • Audio (45 minutes) of the Rev. Ralph David Abernathy’s speech amid the Hospital Workers’ Strike in Charleston recorded by Sloan on March 31, 1969.

Generously donated by Merrill C. Berman, review of the interviews and transcripts is currently underway. They will be accessible in the spring of 2023 to the CofC community and the public on Aviary, the audiovisual repository and platform for the Lowcountry Oral History Initiative. The collection also features artifacts and personal papers connected to Eugene Sloan and his family, including the Hasselblad camera he used to photograph King and other notable civil rights figures, as well as a personal recording Sloan made in the early morning hours after King’s death in 1968. 

“The gift from Merrill C. Berman of the Eugene B. Sloan Civil Rights Collection is a perfect match to the mission and focus of the Avery Research Center,” says CofC President Andrew T. Hsu. “The Avery Research Center is a premier repository for Black history in the Lowcountry and having the 1967 recording of Martin Luther King Jr. in Charleston is an incredible addition to our world-class collections at the Avery Research Center.”

The Eugene B. Sloan Civil Rights Collection will also serve as a complementary element of Documenting the Arc, the Avery Research Center’s oral history project documenting the ongoing fight for equality in the Lowcountry. Supported by the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Documenting the Arc collects interviews focusing on the grassroots demonstrations and organizing efforts in late 2014 through the local George Floyd protests and civil unrest that marked the summer of 2020, emphasizing the period between the killing of Walter Scott and the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church. 

“The artifacts from the Sloan collection also demonstrate how intricately connected the Charleston peninsula and the Sea Island communities (especially Johns and Wadmalaw islands) were to one another and to the ongoing work toward justice,” says Tamara T. Butler, executive director of the Avery Research Center and associate dean of strategic planning and community engagement. “We are honored to be the stewards of this collection as it is an important thread of the civil rights tapestry that we weave together at the Avery Research Center.” 

The Avery Research Center publicly announced the donation on Saturday, June 25, 2022, during the annual meeting of the Avery Institute of Afro-American History and Culture, a separate nonprofit organization providing support to the Avery Research Center’s programs, operations and efforts to acquire archival collections. The meeting also inaugurated the Avery Institute’s Curatorial Committee, which will collaborate with Avery Research Center faculty and staff to design upcoming exhibits for the center’s historic building at 125 Bull St. in downtown Charleston.  

“The Sloan collection would be a treasured and powerful addition to the holdings of even the largest academic library,” says John W. White, dean of libraries. “The conviction shared by Merrill C. Berman and the Sloan family that the Avery Research Center is the best steward for these materials is a testament to the institution’s ability to connect meaningfully with communities in the Lowcountry and around the world. We could not be happier to have the Sloan collection forever preserved and made available right here at the Avery Research Center.”