Secession: Celebration or Commemoration?
150 years ago South Carolina was the first to secede from the Union. Was it to preserve states' rights or slavery?
Michael A. Allen grew up in Kingstree, South Carolina, and is a 1982 graduate of South Carolina State College with a degree in History Education. He began his public career as a Cooperative Education Student with the National Park Service in 1980. Mr. Allen has served as a Park Ranger, Education Specialist and is the Community Partnership Specialist for The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor/Fort Sumter National Monument and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Mr. Allen is also the husband of Latanya Prather and father of Brandon 22, Shaelyn 16 and Isaiah 11. He lives in Mount Pleasant, SC and is active in community affairs and is Co-Pastor of Beyond the Church Walls Ministries.
Michael Allen has been a community activist for most of his professional life. He has a deep-seeded interest in our nation’s spiritual growth as it relates to the history and culture. He played a major role in the National Park Service's Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study which began in 2000. The Gullah people, also known as Geechee in some areas, are the descendants of enslaved Africans brought from West Africa to work on plantations in the fertile coastal crescent from the St. Johns River in Florida to the Cape Fear River in North Carolina. The language, food and religion of their native Africa was integrated with the circumstances forced on them in America to form a distinct culture rich in language, art and culture. The Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study examines the feasibility and suitability of establishing educational centers as well as determining ways to increase interpretation and preservation of this valuable culture. The final report was presented to Congress in the May of 2005. In October of 2006 the US Congress through the leadership of Congressman James E. Clyburn (SC-06), the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act was passed which established the first African American Heritage Area in the Country. In October of 2007 Michael Allen was instrumental in the establishment of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission which is comprised of 25 members from all four states of the corridor. Michael continued to provide inspiration and guidance to the Corridor as it Coordinator. Thus his primary responsibility is to ensure that this journey of establishing a new National Heritage Area become a reality in an effort to provide hope, opportunity and support to grass root organizations and the wider Gullah Geechee Community. In October of 2009 Mr. Allen was formally elevated to the Coordinator Position for the Corridor and is directing the efforts to develop a Management plan which will guide the operations of the corridor for the next decade.
Mr. Allen has also been involved in designing exhibits and presenting interpretive programs that involve local communities and history. These programs are designed to attract non-traditional audiences to National Park Service sites. He was instrumental in 1999, in erecting the “African Importation Historic Marker” on Sullivan Island; in 2008 he assisted the Toni Morrison Society in erecting a “Bench by the Road” at Fort Moultrie to memorialize the islands participation in the African slave trade. Finally in 2009 he was instrumental in unveiling “African Passages” an exhibit which highlights the African arrival, presence and contributions to Gullah Geechee Culture and American society through the eyes of Africans and African American who passed through Sullivan Island on their way to be enslaved in the Charleston and beyond. An additional focus of his career has been the inclusion of the socio-economical and political influences that brought the country to Civil War. He recently was appointed by State Representative Bobby Harrell to the South Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee which will oversee the observance of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War as well as the events of Reconstruction. On June 1, 2010 Mr. Allen celebrated his Thirtieth year with the National Park Service.
Mr. Allen is currently involved in an innovative project designed to engage new audiences in understanding and appreciating African and American history. He is a founding Board Member of the International African American Museum, which is slated to open in 2014 in Charleston SC. It will offer a glimpse of Africans and African Americans contributions in the making of the modern world. In addition to his association with the International African American Museum, he was a founding member and former Vice President of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. He was the past Treasure for the South Carolina Council for African American studies. He also served as a board member for a number of local and statewide organizations such as, The African American Historical Alliance, Habitat for Humanities East Cooper and the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association. He recently was appointed to the NPS Culture Resource Advisory Board. He and his wife are the Co-founder of Bridge of Hope, a Community Outreach 501-C3 Non-Profit organization created to serve the needs of the underserved in North Charleston SC.
Finally Michael’s motto is, “to understand the present and move toward the future, you must first know and accept your past.”
Jannie Harriot, daughter of the late James and Marvell Bradley Harriot, was born in Wilmington, NC and grew up in Hartsville, SC. She graduated from Butler High School and attended Talledega College in Talledega, Alabama and received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, NC. She continued her studies at the University of South Carolina and Montclair State College in Montclair, NJ.
Ms. Harriot taught in the public schools of North and South Carolina and community colleges in New Jersey before returning to Hartsville, SC in 1990. Since returning, she has served as executive director of several community-based organizations, and retired in 2005 as Executive Director of the Allendale County First Steps for School Readiness.
Ms. Harriot has served on the board of many community organizations. She was the founding chairperson of the Butler Heritage Foundation and instrumental in getting the Darlington County Board of Education to deed the Butler School to the Foundation for restoration and preservation. She is a charter member of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, appointed by Governor Carroll Campbell in 1993. She served as the chairperson for six years and currently serves as vice chairperson. She is co-chairperson of the African American Historical Alliance of South Carolina, executive director of the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation and a member of the Darlington County Historical Commission.
She was a 2009 Purpose Prize Fellow, and in 2010 was selected as one of South Carolina’s Top 100 Black Women of Influence. She is a member of the Household of Faith Church #3 in Hartsville and “Aunt Jannie” to 149 nieces, nephews, grand and great nieces and nephews.