CLEMSON, S.C. (WSPA) -Clemson University has received a $3,445,000 grant to create a Black Heritage Trail on campus and in the neighboring cities of Clemson and Seneca. It will tell stories and explain the history of African Americans in the Upstate, according to Rhondda Thomas, the Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson University.
“A mostly black convict labor force built the college,” explained Thomas. “Then, black folks were hired to work as cooks, maids, and laundry, and to do the hard work to keep the college and university going.”
“There’s so much information that’s out there that a lot of people don’t know,” added Angela Agard, the Executive Director of the Clemson Area African American Museum.
“Each segment of the trail has its own uniqueness and individuality,” said Shelby Henderson, the Executive Director of Arts, History, and Culture for the City of Seneca. “But, we’re all connected by the people.”
The trail will be split into three sections. In Seneca, it will begin at the former Blue Ridge High School.
“Blue Ridge High School was the only African American high school in Oconee County from 1955 until 1969,” said Henderson.
The trail will continue into the Woodland Cemetery on Clemson University’s campus.
“That burial ground started in the Antebellum Period,” said Thomas. “We believe the more than 500 unmarked burials that have been recovered are those of enslaved persons, sharecroppers, and convicted laborers who helped to build Clemson as well as wage workers who worked for the college after Clemson opened in 1889.”
The trail will also extend into the city of Clemson.
“I’m envisioning it as a museum without walls,” explained Agard. “It’ll be on the outside of the [Clemson Area African American] museum so people will be able to walk the trails, sit down, reflect on the history, and be able to learn a lot more about this region.”
Artwork, signs, and historical markers will be incorporated throughout the trail to connect the past with the present.
“A lot of times, we make mistakes because we don’t understand where we came from,” explained Thomas.
“I think reinscribing this important part of the university’s history back into that narrative, and then making it publicly accessible, is going to help us build a better Clemson,” she added.
The trial is expected to be completed in the next three years. A website will also be created to provide more information and history.