Initiative seeks public input to document African American experience during coronavirus pandemic

Updated: May. 5, 2020 at 2:45 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission is collecting testimonies, letters, music, images, art and other documents that capture the experiences of African Americans in South Carolina during the coronavirus pandemic.

The initiative is called "Black Carolinians Speak: Portrait of a Pandemic." People of all ages and professions can participate.

Member of the SCAAHC Michael Allen came up with the idea. He says the commission pursued it after finding out that the South Carolina Department of Archives and History did not have documentation of the African American experience during the 1918 pandemic. He says back then African Americans were the majority of people living in the state.

"We see this project as an opportunity to share, to help and to support," Allen said. "At the end of the day, it leaves a place marker for those who are yet to be born."

He says while grocery shopping, he reflected on the new way of life including social distancing, wearing masks and gloves in public and how people are dealing with the pandemic.

"When I put history and humanity together, what I came up with was a project," Allen said.

The commission recognizes that this is an especially difficult period for all residents of South Carolina.

The state department of health says African Americans make up 44 percent of COVID-19 cases, but make up 27 percent of the population. It also reports that African Americans account for 53 percent of COVID-19 related deaths.

"In looking at the challenges of rural communities, looking at the challenges of not having adequate health care, it's not hard to phantom," Allen said. "Maybe for some Carolinians what's been exposed and what's being brought to bear may be surprising, but for those of us in the know this is not.This makes it even more important that that we shine this light on the experience of African Americans."

The commission says the pandemic has exacerbated existing inequalities and disparities in education, health, and employment. They say future generations will likely seek to understand how the pandemic redefined what it meant to be black in South Carolina and how the crisis altered the traditions of African Americans.

"In our churches, there's a song that we sing it goes, 'We look back and wonder how we got over' and it continues to repeat it...," Allen said. "People will be able to look 100 years back into the voices, the photographs, the videos, the testimony, they will know how we got over in the situation."

Here are suggested ways to share your story:

  • Write: Share written testimonies of your personal experience including diary or journal entries, letters, essays, poetry, etc.
  • Create Artwork: Submit scans or photographs of drawings or paintings or share original music that reflects your own or your community’s experience.
  • Take photographs or video of your environment,community, life in quarantine-Share screenshots of relevant social media posts
  • Gather testimonies from children and teens about their experiences

Here are questions you can use as prompts, but are not limited to, for your response:

  • What effect has this pandemic had on your personal life, family, business, church, organization or community?
  • What feelings are you experiencing?
  • How have these changes affected your political or economic outlook?
  • How have you or others in your community showed resourcefulness or learned new skills as you have adjusted to the crisis?
  • What advice would you give to others who may face similar crises? You can upload your experiences to this database.

There’s a form you can fill out and there’s a place for you to upload a document or image.

All documents and information collected will be included in the Commission papers housed at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

The SCAAHC was founded in 1993, it identifies, preserves and promotes the rich history and culture of African Americans in the Palmetto State.

Copyright 2020 WCSC. All rights reserved.