As a hub of Charleston’s African American community, the historic, red brick schoolhouse at 125 Bull Street has had many chapters in its 155 years. As the home of the College’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture since 1985, a new chapter is set to begin. The Mellon Foundation has awarded the center a $2 million grant – the largest in the center’s history – to support the collection and preservation of documents, artifacts, stories, photographs and all other materials related to the Avery, starting with the impact of the Avery Normal Insitute and Avery High School’s teachers, leaders and graduates. 

“This grant is a true difference-maker for the Avery Research Center and our entire campus,” says Andrew T. Hsu, president of the College. “The Mellon Foundation has an incredibly strong legacy of helping to build just communities with their significant investments to enhance a dialogue of ideas and bolster imaginations. I am excited to see how this grant will accelerate and expand the important work of the center’s staff as well as its immediate impact on our greater community in Charleston.” 

The funding will allow the center to explore and share new and rich cultural histories. 

“The grant emphasizes our commitment to preserving and promoting the Avery Research Center’s histories,” says Executive Director Tamara T. Butler. “We are overjoyed about the opportunity to tell stories about our nearly 160-year-old evolution. This grant is only possible because of dynamic faculty, supportive leadership and committed staff.”  

Funding will also enable the Avery Research Center to broaden the reach of its archival collections through training/professional development and community outreach.

Other outcomes of the four-year project include: processing, describing and digitizing selected historic manuscripts and audiovisual collections for public use; increasing community engagement in the Avery Research Center’s archives and programming; and creating accessible and creative interpretations of the Avery Research Center’s histories at the intersections of art, public history and archives/museum studies.

“Providing access to currently unprocessed collections will help scholars, artists and educators explore the histories of spaces and places Black communities have used for a liberatory education,” says Aaisha Haykal, the center’s manager of archival services. 

The grant will also allow the center to hire several full-time archivists, a public historian/curator, an education coordinator and multiple artists.  

“With the Mellon Foundation’s support, we will not only process a backlog of collections to make them accessible to researchers,” says Erica Veal, research archivist and interpretation coordinator, “but also create innovative educational tools centered on the newly available collections, publish new editions of the South Carolina Black History Bugle, curate exhibitions and offer new community programming.”  

Elevating and expanding this history will echo well past campus. 

Says Suzanne Austin, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost: “The Avery Research Center is an integral institution for the College and for Charleston, with the impact of their faculty and staff’s work extending far beyond the historic building at 125 Bull Street.”