Black History Month at the
This two mile walk through downtown Spartanburg and the Southside neighborhood begins at the Headquarters library and passes by twelve historic sites that help tell the story of Spartanburg’s African-American community.
African-American history in Spartanburg County parallels the tragedy, hope, and progress that has strengthened our nation through its most difficult trials. Stolen centuries ago from their families and consigned to lives of unwilling service in a rigid social order, freed from bondage only to be shackled by intolerance and bigotry, shown the path to opportunity but too often blocked by generational poverty, the many injustices borne by African-Americans have, against all odds, failed to extinguish a vital light that shines forth and enriches all people of our country.
From the 13-year-old servant who saved the life of Colonel William Washington at the Battle of Cowpens to the minister’s wife who sacrificed her red petticoat to sew the stars and stripes for the American soldiers that had ensured her emancipation, African-Americans have spoken and acted alongside their white peers during the entirety of Spartanburg County’s history. For most of that time, their words and deeds have been obstructed and obscured by biased sources and incomplete records, but during the month of February, the Spartanburg County Public Libraries take special note of what has survived the passage of time and honors the legacy that has reached us. Here you’ll find a listing of events and exhibits during the month of February that celebrate this powerful heritage.
During the month of February, the atrium of the SCPL Headquarters will feature a selection of images, artifacts, and documents pulled from the archival collections of the Kennedy Room. It will include information on the many churches and schools that have formed the nucleus of African-American social life since the Civil War, powerful stories and images from Spartanburg’s Civil Rights Era, and brief biographies of the many African-American men and women of Spartanburg County who have broken barriers and advanced the causes of justice and progress.
Brad Steinecke of the Kennedy Room explains the significance of a hand-sewn American flag in the library’s collection that was once held at the head of a parade through downtown Spartanburg in September of 1865.
Black history in the Spartanburg area remains obscured by the biases and scarcity of early records. By 1790, the first year with a reliable population estimate, Spartanburg County was home to 866 black slaves and 27 "free persons not white," representing about 10% of the total population. At the time of emancipation, some 8,300 African-Americans lived in Spartanburg County, around 30% of the total population. Today Spartanburg County is about 21% black. The continued triumph of Spartanburg's black community over the marks of slavery and prejudice is a powerful story worth telling. The items featured here sample some of the library's holdings that illustrate that story.