Three 54th Massachusetts reenactors (including Joe McGill, our Charleston guide) spoke to us this evening in the Old Charleston Jail’s courtyard about the challenges black men faced to enlist in the war before Lincoln’s endorsement. They stated in unison at one point that the government didn’t want “men who look us.” These men shared stories through song, prose and history to tell how as slaves they ran away to enlist in the 54th Massachusetts in Boston.
This was of course took place with the Old Jail as the backdrop. Built in 1802, this building and site was an awful place to be if you were a hardened or petty criminal or a 54th Mass soldier captured at Fort Wagner. We of course are spending the night in the room where the worst offenders were held. The cell seen below is a reproduction and housed 2-10 of the prison’s worst of the worst. Even with the windows open and a pleasant breeze the room is quite hot with 20 people in it. One can only imagine what it was like with double or triple that number. Our female teachers are braving this evening in their own cell down the corridor in the petty crime wing.
Other interesting things we saw was the McKie Meriwether monument in North Hamburg. It revolves around Local whites attempts to paint a massacre of African American soldiers at Hamburg, SC as a riot. An interesting story to be told another time but we did discuss how it is evidence of the entrenched racism MLK faced. We also enjoyed authentic Gullah cuisine by a world famous chef.
Our day began by cleaning out a Freedman’s Cottage in Aiken County. It was filthy after years of neglect. Students swept and moved a lot of debris out of it in preparation of a future overnight. It is here where we first met our guide Joe McGill (above), a nationally known historian on slave dwellings, who explained the difference between a slave dwelling and freedman’s cottage. The home in front of the shack was beautiful… can you guess when it was built?