Saturday, July 14, 2018

John M. Coggeshall's "Liberia, South Carolina"

John M. Coggeshall is professor of anthropology at Clemson University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Liberia, South Carolina: An African American Appalachian Community, and reported the following:
On page 99 of my book, I describe a typical crossroads store in the upper part of South Carolina in the early twentieth century. Just 4 miles from the Blue Ridge, in the valley of the Oolenoy River, the store served the rural surrounding area, including an enclave of African Americans (descendants of freed slaves) living in a little side valley called “Liberia” since 1865. Imagine a few older white farmers sitting on a bench outside the store, sipping “dopes” (soft drinks) and talking about the cotton crop or the weather. Up to the porch shyly shuffles a young black child from Liberia, peddling a basket of blueberries and his mother’s chicken’s eggs. One of the whites disdainfully utters the “N” word as the little boy enters the store. After getting his money for the berries and eggs, and after buying some penny candy, the little boy leaves. Upon his return home, he tells his mother what happened. Outraged, she informs all her neighbors and friends. All Liberia residents refuse to trade at that store ever again; the store eventually closes.

This incident actually happened to the older brother of the current matriarch of the Liberia community, a woman whose family and friends I document in my book. The example illustrates the tremendous pressures on this black community by surrounding whites to humiliate, antagonize, threaten, and drive off these descendants of freed slaves from their ancestral land, especially during the Jim Crow era. At the same time, the fact that the boy’s family and friends refused to shop at this store ever again also demonstrates the resiliency of these upper South Carolina residents, to resist, to retaliate, and still to remain in a predominantly white space since before 1865. The role of the boy’s mother in leading the boycott also demonstrates the recurring theme of strong-willed matriarchs in the Liberia community, extending over generations.

This book chronicles 5 generations of blacks, primarily through the voices of strong-willed women, to present the story of this enclave community by utilizing secondary sources and first-person interviews. Ultimately, it is a story of human resilience.
Learn more about Liberia, South Carolina at The University of North Carolina Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Liberia, South Carolina.

--Marshal Zeringue