Category Archives: History

Thomas Mayhem Pinckney

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December 8, 2016 marks the 64th anniversary of the death of Thomas Mayhem Pinckney, a relatively obscure yet integral, early figure in the preservation movement in Charleston. An African American craftsman, Pinckney’s life inspired the Preservation Society to name a special committee after him in 2012. The Thomas Mayhem Pinckney Alliance is dedicated to recognizing and preserving those sites and places in the Charleston area built by, occupied by, and utilized for activities significant to the African American experience.

Pinckney was born in 1877, son of cabinetmaker Nathaniel Pinckney. Educated in Charleston’s public schools and at Clark University Night School, he trained as a stair maker with Luther Alston, another local contractor, before beginning an apprenticeship with Snelson Contracting Co., builders of the Old City Jail and the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy on Legare St. Continue reading

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Preservation Parlance: Preservation, Rehabilitation, Restoration, and Reconstruction

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When Congress passed the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) 50 years ago, it affirmed historic preservation’s importance to the United States’ cultural, environmental, and economic well-being. The passing of the NHPA also formed an official framework for what had previously been a largely informal activity, taken up in grassroots efforts like those seen in Charleston in the 1920s and 1930s. The NHPA charged the Secretary of the Interior (SOI) with establishing professional standards for preserving historic properties and created the Section 106 process, among other programs.

Every profession has its jargon, and from the NHPA comes a complexity of terminology, which can, at times, make historic preservation and its processes inaccessible. With May being Preservation Month, let’s clarify some of the ambiguous aspects of preservation parlance. Continue reading

Irish in Charleston

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Saint Michael’s Church in 1861 (via loc.gov)

One reason Charleston’s history is so alluring is that it is multi-layered, complex, and flavored with the diversity of several ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. In the late-17th century, inhabitants of the nascent colony included Africans, West Indians, Sephardic Jews from Portugal and Spain, Scots, French Huguenots, Germans, Dutch, Irish, and of course English.[1] All of these groups have left their mark on the city in one way or another, but in the spirit of Saint Patrick’s Day, of particular focus here is the contribution of Irish and Irish-Americans to Charleston’s built environment. Continue reading

Black Craftsmen and the Built Environment

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Image from the 2008 City of Charleston Preservation Plan

The Thomas Mayhem Pinckney Alliance is dedicated to recognizing and promoting significant sites and places in Charleston related to African American history. As Black History Month comes to a close, it is an apt time to highlight the considerable influence African and African American labor has had on the city, specifically its built environment. While the preservation movement’s policies and outcomes contributed to the current state of the Peninsula’s celebrated urban fabric, the skilled hands of predominantly black artisans were integral to the original creation of that fabric, the preservation movement itself, and the resultant building stock. Continue reading

Love is Progress, Hate is Expensive: Esau Jenkins

On June 1, 2014, at the site of the future International African American Museum on Concord Street, the community gathered to honor an influential Civil Rights figure from Johns Island, SC as a portion of Esau Jenkins’ iconic VW van was sent to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.  The Mt. Zion Spiritual singers sang in the style of the Moving Star Hall Singers and members of the Charleston community and Jenkins family shared reflections on his life and work.

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