Filed Under African American

Black Burial Sites and Memorials on Rivers Green

Commemorating Black Charlestonians on C of C's campus

Over two centuries ago, free people of color buried their dead near this spot. In 2008, the College installed this memorial on Rivers Green, outside Addlestone Library. Nearby, another marker commemorates a beloved librarian and member of Emanuel AME church.

The Brown Fellowship Society, founded November 1st, 1790 by Charleston’s community of elite free persons of color, is more than two centuries old. This Society was once central to the African American community of Charleston, and members maintained a cemetery next to their meeting hall on Pitt Street. This property is now a paved parking lot for Addlestone Library and Rivers Green. Every single day students and staff at the College pass through one of the most important sites in the history of the City’s African American community, whether they know it or not.

In 1790 five members of Charleston’s free Black elite - James Mitchell, George Bampfield, William Cattel, George Bedon, and Samuel Saltus - gathered together and formed the Brown Fellowship Society. The society was meant to be a mutual aid association for the free Black community in a time that permitted them minimal benefits from public services. Rather, they had to provide for their own needs even though they were deeply disadvantaged in comparison to their white counterparts.

Membership in the Society was originally limited to fifty men of Charleston’s free people of color, most of whom would have been affiliated with the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church. Most of these men were of the artisan community or business entrepreneurs. Some of their original goals were assisting widows and orphans of members, providing burial plots, and other various services. At one point in the early nineteenth century they established a school for free people of color. This school was established by Thomas Bonneau in 1807 in Richard Holloway’s yard, for the children of the society’s members. They also supported and educated a young orphan who later became a bishop in the AME Church.

The Society used their treasury as a sort of revolving fund to provide capital for enterprising members who wanted to get involved in real estate or make investments in other endeavors. At one point the Brown Fellowship Society gained a large amount of real estate from the College of Charleston starting in 1794 and on up until 1820. The society then converted the real estate to bank stocks because they determined that they would receive a greater return. By 1856, the society’s original investment was worth $6,000, which was then shared by the members. As a part of this financial support, the society also functioned as a sort of credit union, allowing its members to borrow from its treasury.

One of the main benefits of the society was the use of its cemetery. Because these free people of color were not allowed to be buried in St. Philip’s Episcopal Churchyard Cemetery, they founded their own. Both members and their families could be buried in the Society’s cemetery upon their death. If for any reason a member who died did not leave behind enough money to provide for burial cost and to support their children, the society would assume their burden. The society would financially support and educate their children until they reached the age of fourteen, at which time they would be apprenticed out to craftsmen until they became an adult. The people buried in that cemetery include some of the most affluent members of Charleston’s free Black community.

At least three more African American cemeteries opened here: The Machpelah Society, taking its name from the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpelah) in the Old Testament; Plymouth Church, a nearby African American Congregational Church; and the Free Dark Men Society, another antebellum organization of free people of color.

Burials in the cemetery continued well into the 1900s, until the property was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston so that a parking lot could be paved for Bishop England High School. Despite promising to relocate the headstones, monuments, and remains to the new graveyard located off of Cunnington Avenue, there is no evidence that this occurred. Most of the remains were never removed, and very few of the gravestones were relocated. Bishop England paved over the history of Charleston’s Black community as if it did not exist.

Recognition finally came after the construction of Addlestone Library, when the College of Charleston erected a monument in honor of those who were buried on the property. The College of Charleston held a dedication ceremony for the African-American Cemetery Memorial on February 7th, 2008 at Rivers Green of the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library. Some of those in attendance included the Dean of Libraries at the College of Charleston, the President of the College of Charleston, College of Charleston History Professor Dr. Bernard Powers Jr., and Mr. Anthony B. O’Neill, President of the Brown Fellowship Society. In the Program for the Dedication Dr. Powers writes, “By recognizing the African-American cemeteries as an important site of memory, a significant chapter is being written in Charleston’s modern history. Simultaneously, homage is being paid to its past.” To Dr. Powers, “This location adjacent to the Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston is especially compelling because the men in these organizations were interested in promoting education.”

Elsewhere on Rivers Green, tucked in a small garden at the southeast corner of the building, between the terrace and a fence along Coming Street, a memorial to a more recent community member and educator can be found. The memorial pays tribute to librarian Cynthia Graham Hurd, who was one of the victims of the tragic Mother Emanuel shooting on June 17, 2015. Graham was a beloved librarian at Addlestone and at the Charleston County Library.

Images

Juneteenth Flags on Rivers Green
Juneteenth Flags on Rivers Green C of C employees brought Pan-African flags to Rivers Green during the 2022 Maroon Walk for Juneteenth. Creator: The College Today, College of Charleston.
African American Cemetery Memorial
African American Cemetery Memorial In 2008 The College of Charleston dedicated the African-American Cemetery Memorial located on Rivers Green behind Addlestone Library. This memorial honors three African-American Cemeteries once located on the site of Addlestone Library and Rivers Green. These cemeteries belonged to the Brown Fellowship Society, the Humane Brotherhood, and what is known as the Macphelah Society. Creator: Photograph courtesy of the College of Charleston.
Brown Fellowship and Macphelah Society Cemeteries
Brown Fellowship and Macphelah Society Cemeteries This photo from the Holloway Family Scrapbook shows 52-54 Pitt Street, which was home to the Brown Fellowship and Macphelah Society Cemeteries. In this historic photo one can see what the cemeteries once looked like from Pitt Street before the site was turned into a parking lot for Bishop England High School.  Source: Holloway Family Scrapbook, Lowcountry Digital Library. Creator: Courtesy of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
Portrait of Richard Holloway, 1726-1845.
Portrait of Richard Holloway, 1726-1845. Richard Holloway was a free person of color from Maryland who settled in Charleston, learned carpentry, and in 1803 married and joined a society for free men of color, the Brown Fellowship Society. When the College sold off some of the “College Lands” in 1817, Holloway bought lot number 8, at the corner of Green and College streets. By the 1840s he owned five houses in a row on College Street, in addition to eight more properties nearby. This portrait was preserved in a scrapbook compiled by one if his grandsons, James Holloway (1849-1913). The scrapbook provides a nuanced view of the ways free persons of color navigated antebellum society and the practice of slave ownership. In some cases, this practice offered a way to protect enslaved family members or friends whom state laws would not allowed to be freed, while others were truly treated as property. The Holloway Family Scrapbook is now available through the Lowcountry Digital Library. Source: Holloway Family Scrapbook, Lowcountry Digital Library. Creator: Courtesy of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
Funeral Notice, 1871
Funeral Notice, 1871 This newspaper clipping is of an 1871 Charleston Daily News Funeral Notice for Malcolm Brown. The first three announcements are from Friday January 6, and the fourth is from Saturday January 7 after Mr. Brown's burial at the Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery on Pitt Street. Mr. Malcolm Brown was the Treasurer for the Brown Fellowship Society and an Alderman for the city. Malcolm Brown was one of many influential African Americans buried in the Society's Cemetery. Creator: Charleston Daily News, January 1871.
Brown Fellowship Society news article, 1872
Brown Fellowship Society news article, 1872 In 1872 the Brown Fellowship Society celebrated its eighty-second anniversary. This newspaper clipping from The Charleston Daily News on November 13, 1872 lists the officers elected at the Society's anniversary meeting for the following year, including the Burial Ground Trustees. Creator: Charleston Daily News, Nov. 13, 1872
Brown Fellowship Society cemetery, Cunnington Avenue
Brown Fellowship Society cemetery, Cunnington Avenue In the 1940s the Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, so that a parking lot could be paved for Bishop England High School. A new property was purchased off of Cunnington Avenue in North Charleston to be used as the Society's cemetery. The Diocese promised to relocate the headstones, monuments, and remains to the new cemetery off of Cunnington, but there is no evidence that this occurred. This is a photo of the entrance to the Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery off of Cunnington Ave. Creator: Photograph courtesy of Noah Dubois.
Engraved marker at Cunnington Avenue cemetery
Engraved marker at Cunnington Avenue cemetery In the 1940s the Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, so that a parking lot could be paved for Bishop England High School. A new property was purchased off of Cunnington Avenue in North Charleston to be used as the Society's cemetery. This is a photo of the entrance to the Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery off of Cunnington Ave. Creator: Photograph courtesy of Noah Dubois.
Brown Fellowship Society rulebook shown in Smithsonian
Brown Fellowship Society rulebook shown in Smithsonian Newspaper clipping from The Greenville News on March 16, 1973 about a copy of the Rules and Regulations of the Brown Fellowship Society being placed on display at the National Portrait Gallery in 1973. Creator: The Greenville News, March 16, 1973
Rivers Green Gate
Rivers Green Gate After the Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery was purchased by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston in the 1940s, the Diocese promised to move the gravestones, monuments, and remains to a new cemetery off of Cunnington Avenue. Unfortunately, this did not occur. In 2001 as construction was starting on Addlestone Library at the College of Charleston, human remains were discovered. The Brown Fellowship Society's Cemetery now sits under the parking lot for the Library, pictured here.
Memorial Dedication Ceremony
Memorial Dedication Ceremony Caption: On February 7, 2008 the College of Charleston held a dedication ceremony for the African-American Cemetery Memorial on Rivers Green behind the Library. This memorial honors three African- American Cemeteries once located on this site. These cemeteries belonged to the Brown Fellowship Society, the Humane Brotherhood, and what is known as the MacPhelah Society. This is the cover of the dedication ceremony program, a copy of which is housed in the College of Charleston's Special Collections. Creator: Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries.
Memorial Dedication Ceremony program, pages 2-3
Memorial Dedication Ceremony program, pages 2-3 On February 7, 2008 the College of Charleston held a dedication ceremony for the African-American Cemetery Memorial on Rivers Green behind Addlestone Library. This is the inside of the program for the dedication ceremony. This program includes a very informative brief history of the cemeteries by historian, College of Charleston Professor Emeritus, and the Director of the Center For the Study of Slavery, Dr. Bernard Powers. Creator: Courtesy of College of Charleston Libraries
Cynthia Graham Hurd Garden
Cynthia Graham Hurd Garden A path leads to the memorial for the Addlestone librarian who was one of the victims of the Emanuel A.M. E. shooting on June 17, 2015. Creator: Courtesy of the College of Charleston.
Cynthia Hurd Memorial Marker
Cynthia Hurd Memorial Marker A much-loved librarian at Addlestone Library, Hurd was one of the nine parishioners killed in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church shooting on June 17, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. The Cynthia Graham Hurd Foundation continues her "work and legacy of engaging the community through her love and appreciation for reading."  Creator: Courtesy of the College of Charleston.

Location

Metadata

Grace Hall, Harlan Greene, and the Committee on Commemoration and Landscapes, “Black Burial Sites and Memorials on Rivers Green,” Discovering Our Past: College of Charleston Histories, accessed April 15, 2024, https://discovering.cofc.edu/items/show/73.