“The Green Book provides an opportunity for us to expand the knowledge of those original sites, the significance of those original sites. And so, one of the other things that we’ve done is we’ve worked with teachers to create lesson plans around the Green Book sites, and they’re included in our teacher’s guide to African American historic sites in South Carolina. The green book is a part of our work, but it’s only a part of our work. We have a whole body of work that’s all integrated into preservation of the rich culture of African Americans in South Carolina.”
The International African American Museum’s Marketing Coordinator in conversation with Dawn Dawson-House, key adviser for the project and executive director of the WeGOJA Foundation, and Jannie Harriot, key project adviser and Chairwoman of the S.C. African American Heritage Commission, about their preservation work within South Carolina and the Green Book of South Carolina — an online travel guide to more than 300 African American cultural sites. The guide was named in tribute to the original Negro Motorist Green Book published during the Jim Crow Era by New York postman Victor Green, and later, Alma D. Green.
Both Dawson-House and Harriot have a long history regarding preserving the rich culture of African Americans in South Carolina, making their love for the work they do even more apparent. Although neither have formal training in history subjects, they both developed an interest in learning about the stories of African Americans, especially those within South Carolina, and sharing them with others.
As advocates for historic preservation, both Dawson-House and Harriot recognize their efforts go beyond that of the Green Book of South Carolina. Their interdisciplinary work, which includes collaborative efforts with teachers on lesson plans, impacts many within and outside of their professions.
From their preservation work that began long before the Green Book movie premiered to their perseverance through the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is now time for Dawson-House and Harriot to share their own stories with us. Listen above for more.
About Dawn Dawson
Dawn Dawson-House became Executive Director of the WeGOJA Foundation in January 2021 and leads the non-profit’s efforts to support the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission in its mission to identify and document historic sites across the state. She had been the Director of Corporate Communications for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism prior to assuming this new role, and had been an employee at SCPRT for 31 years. While she was with SCPRT, she filled the agency’s ex-officio seat on the SCAAHC and helped create the state’s only online travel guide to African American cultural sites – The Green Book of South Carolina. That project won numerous tourism marketing and historic preservation awards for its innovative delivery of historical information.
Her goals for the WeGOJA Foundation are to expand its donor base and advocacy, strengthen its relationships with the business community and to work closely with government and civic leaders to heighten awareness of African American history.
The WeGOJA Foundation supports the SC African American Heritage Commission in identifying and documenting heritage sites in South Carolina, and leveraging their compelling story to improve education, business, industry, our communities and tourism. In addition to the award-winning Green Book of South Carolina, we have an amazing set of projects going on right now. Check them out at https://www.wegoja.org/initiatives.
About Jannie Harriot
Jannie Harriot, 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 University of South Carolina and Montclair State College, Montclair, NJ
In 1993 she was appointed as a charter member of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission by Governor Carroll Campbell and currently serves as chairperson. During her tenure as chair, the SCAAHC has published yearly “African American Historic Places in South Carolina” published a “Teachers’ Guide to African American Historic Places in South Carolina and its “Arts Integration Supplement”, a survey of African American schools in South Carolina, “How Did We Get to Now?” and “The Business of Rural Heritage, Culture and Art”, an introductory resource guide for entrepreneurs and created “The Green Book of South Carolina.”
She was a 2009 Purpose Prize Fellow, and in 2010 was selected as one of South Carolina’s Top 100 Black Women of Influence. In 2014 the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation awarded her the “Herbert A. DeCosta, Jr. Trailblazer’ award for her dedication to the preservation of African American history and culture in South Carolina. In 2018, the South Carolina Conference of NAACP awarded her the Presidential Citation in Education and Advocacy. She is the month of May in the 2019 AT&T African American History Calendar and selected for the first class to be inducted into the first class of the Ernest A. Finney Hall of Fame and awarded “The order of the Palmetto” the highest civilian award for the State of South Carolina.
The transcript for the entire interview can be found below.
Could you both introduce yourselves and tell us a little bit more about your work?
I am Jannie Harriot and I am the chairperson of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission. The Commission was created in 1993 for the preservation of African American history and culture by the South Carolina General Assembly. Originally it was called the South Carolina African American Heritage Council and then in 2001 Governor Hodges issued an executive order, creating a Commission. Over the last 27 years, we’ve worked with various state and local organizations and the Department of Archives and History to enhance and improve the preservation and the promotion of the great experiences of African Americans in South Carolina. I have been a member of the commission for the 27 years and have served as chair for at least 10-12 years, so it’s about the work. It’s about our culture. It’s about our people and it is indeed a labor of love for me.
I’m Dawn Dawson-House and I am the new Executive Director of the WeGOJA Foundation. I’m taking over for what Jannie used to do with the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation. We just rebranded it last summer and we’re trying to build a greater and bigger organization so we can do more for the African American Heritage Commission. I was formerly the Director of Corporate Communications for the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. So, what I bring to the mix, since I’m not a historian, is organizational development some organizational nuances and some promotion and marketing and some understanding of heritage’s position in tourism in South Carolina. A lot of our tourism is based on authenticity and our heritage is deep because we were, number one an American colony, number two a significant port for the transatlantic slave trade. So, we have in my opinion an untapped resource of history that we could use to help improve the economy of South Carolina, including the African American economy in South Carolina. So, it is a labor of love, of course, The WeGOJA Foundation just raises money and tries to support what Jannie and the Commission doing on a regular basis.
Okay, and could you tell us a little bit more about the aim of the Green Book for South Carolina and any other goals that you may have regarding the production of the Green Book? And then also, if you have any personal ties to making sure that the Green Book is fully representative of South Carolina history and culture.
Dawn: The Green Book was started in 2017 before Green Book craze happened in this country and all over the world. South Carolina’s African American Heritage Commission wanted to do a travel guide of African American sites because the volume of what we have is so compelling that we thought that the story is attractive and it could attract tourists just like people are attracted to Charleston for its history. So, we just we thought about a hard copy book. We don’t have we didn’t have the money for it at the time or the resources for it at the time and we knew that the travel public was moving on to more online things. Now, there’s still a good mix of online and paper stuff, but we wanted to do online. We pay tribute to the first travel guide, well one of the first travel guides, for African Americans in this country called The Negro Motorist Green Book and that Green Book of course was a Green Book of safe places for African Americans to travel during the segregated era of Jim Crow. It was published from 1936 to 1966 and African Americans started traveling more in that era because we had that mass migration away from the south up into the north. So, we started developing the middle class of African Americans and one of the first places when they did travel, one of the first places they came back, was down south to the family that left behind. So, but they knew the road was perilous and a New York Post made by the name of Victor Green created a directory of places that would welcome them: hotels, gas stations, restaurants, attractions, roadside stands, all kinds of things that would welcome people, even beauty parlors, barber shops. So, they would welcome African Americans. So, that’s how the original Green Book got started and we just paid tribute to that with the Green Book of South Carolina online. So, that’s it in a nutshell. Jannie can elaborate more than I can on some of the future plans for it. We are in some negotiations with a publisher to see if we can print a hard copy, but it will be an abridged version. Not all 350/380 sites. It’d be an abridged version of the Green Book of South Carolina and we are expanding it on regular basis because we’re about to launch the Family Reunion Toolkit, which is on the Green Book site right now. We’ve also added several tours to it. There’s a Briggs v. Elliott tour on it. We plan to add an extant sites tour onto the Green Book, which is sites that we still that are still standing that used to be advertised in the original Green Book. We’re going to add a tour of those onto this Green Book. So, we’re trying to get people to understand the enormous, compelling story of African American history in South Carolina through travel and through a resource that we think makes it easy for them to grasp at least brief historic significance.
Jannie: The thing is that the Green Book provides an opportunity for us to expand the knowledge of those original sites, the significance of those original sites, and so one of the other things that we’ve done is we’ve worked with teachers to create lesson plans around the Green Book sites, and they’re included in our teacher’s guide to African American historic sites in South Carolina. So, aside from the Green Book is a part of our work, but it’s only a part of our work. We have a whole body of work that’s all integrated into preservation of the rich culture of African Americans in South Carolina. So, I mean like Dawn said we thought about the Green Book of South Carolina before the whole craze and the movie, and so that actually just lifted what we were doing and every day I see something new that somebody is doing with the Green Book. We are currently talking to North Carolina about doing a North Carolina/ South Carolina, which we’re going to call Carolinian or Carolina Green Book tour. So, you know, they’re just so many things that we can do and as things open up it just creates more opportunities for us to explore South Carolina.
Do you see it expanding even beyond the Carolinas to include Georgia, Florida, any other southern states? Or do you primarily aim to focus on the Carolinas?
Jannie: Well, that could be a possibility. We are currently intalks or in collaboration with Sea Grant Consortium about doing a seafood trail along the coast of South Carolina and then it’s going to be Gullah Geechee. So, we know that Gullah Geechee starts in North Carolina and goes down to Florida. So, I see that as a possibility of us partnering with those other states. Maybe integrating that seafood trail into the Green Book and possibly just, you know, instead of compartmentalizing, making it a story along the coast as well.
Dawn: We know travelers don’t travel by state line. They travel, and travel, and try to find things, you know. So, if we’re if we’re truly going to create a product for the traveler, it would be great if we could make it as broad as possible. But, of course state lines exist and state African American Heritage Commission’s exist, so we would have to work with a variety of people to expand it beyond South Carolina and we are working with North Carolina, but that’s just for extant sites. It’s not for all cultural sites. So, it would be a big task if we were to do that and there have been some national publications who have wanted to pull together somewhat of a Green Book type of publication for the entire nation, but they were making theirs advertising based, and I think a lot of these sites did not have that kind of money. So, it hasn’t got off too much off the ground. But, yes a national Green Book would be great. I just don’t know if it’s been thought about beyond just talking about it right now.
I would like to shift a little bit more towards the actual mobile app, and I wanted to know if you could explain the format of the mobile app and whether or not you think the app has increased awareness, especially since it’s a little bit more accessible to different types of people, different types of learners and two people across a wider geographical range?
Jannie: Well, it’s not an app. It’s web-based, but it’s not an application. So, when we originally started, when we looked at what we were going to do the idea was an app, but we didn’t have that kind of funding. So, we created a web-based mobile guide and Dawn can, you know, talk a little bit more about the reasons why we chose to make it web-based rather than an application.
Dawn: Well, when we did our consumer research we realized that a lot of consumers were not downloading random apps. They probably would download a Beyonce app, but they probably wouldn’t download and/or pay for another app. So, we made it a website, but you can put an icon on your home screen and click on it as if it was an app, so it functions like an app. But, basically you want to know the layout of it you said? So, basically we have six different categories on the website from the homepage. You can click on something called locations and that’ll give you an alphabetical order of all the 380 sites in the guide. If you click on “Map” on the website, the GPS system that we’re using will find out where you’re located, unless you’re on a laptop, if you’re on a laptop it goes statewide. But, if you are on a mobile phone, it will find out where you’re located and it will pinpoint on that map all of the African American attractions in our database within 25 miles of where you’re located. So, that’s what the map does for you. We also have categories. We have like six categories: cultural attractions, historic cemeteries, historic churches, historic district insights, historic markers, historic schools and HBCUs. So, our database is separated into these categories. So, if you were to click on any of those you would get all the like attractions that are associated with that category. We also have tags like the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. If you were to click on that tag, you’ll get everything that’s along the Corridor in South Carolina. We also have tags like the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. If you were to click on that tag, you’ll get everything that’s along the Corridor in South Carolina. We also have a tag called “Tours.” We’re still developing “Tours,” they’re still under development. We have suggested sample itineraries for people who want to do day trips in South Carolina all over the state and we are developing tours like the Briggs v. Elliott tour which is still under development because we have to make some corrections with that one. Then we have a “News” category, which tells people, you know, where we are in the news, if there’s some exciting, new stuff that we want to talk about on this on this website, we can. We also have something called “Black Carolinian Speak” on the website right now. Although it’s not a travel function, it is a portal that allows African Americans in South Carolina to tell us how the pandemic has affected their lives. How our students feeling afterschool has been disrupted? What are teachers feeling? What are nurses and First Responders feeling? What about doctors and other people in South Carolina? Churches, Reverends, people who go to church? So, that “Black Carolinian Speak” is a huge thing on the Green Book of South Carolina website. We’re planning an exhibit to open July15th in the Department of Archives and History Center on Park Lane Road in Colombia of all the things that we receive from “Black Carolinians Speak.” So in a nutshell, the Green Book of South Carolina has a lot of things in it right now that can help you understand African American Heritage in the state. So, if you were to find a location and click on “Locations,” and you click on one and my example that I’m looking on my website right now is Bench by the Road at Sullivan’s Island in Fort Moultrie. I should do Gadsden’s Wharf since the International African American Museum is on that site, but I got this. So, it opens up with a picture, if we can, of the site, brief, historic significance, and then buttons that help you visit. You can get GPS directions to that site whether it’s a marker or a place. You can find nearby locations, so if you went to Sullivan’s Island, Fort Moultrie, I f you clicked on “Nearby Locations,” you will be able to find African American sites nearby Fort Moultrie. You can add it to your favorites, so you can build your own itinerary on your own or you can engage in social media with Facebook and Twitter. We have phone numbers, if you want to call them. We have a website, if you want to explore more. We have the exact street address, if you want to know more about that and we have other tags. So, there’s a lot of information in every items’ page on this website. That’s pretty much how it’s laid out.
Jannie: Don’t forget about the Family Reunion Toolkit that’s on the Green Book site as well.
Dawn: Yeah, so we’re about to launch the Family Reunion Toolkit. Probably in another 30 days/45 days and what that is, is just a place where we were inviting people to discover history while they’re planning their reunions in South Carolina. So, you know, how our reunions go: Thursday night is the welcome, Friday night is a tour or the picnic, and then Saturday is the tour and the banquet. Well, if you’re going on a tour on Saturday, you need to probably follow one of our day trip ideas in Charleston or in Greenville or in the PD or in Colombia. We have itineraries that say you need to go to this church for its significance and this site for its significance and this cemetery for what it says about African Americans in South Carolina throughout our heritage. So, that’s what the Family Reunion Toolkit would do, and it gives ideas on how to build your own family reunions in South Carolina.
…and you briefly mentioned the pandemic and I wanted to ask you how has it impacted your work and have you seen it actively impacting certain historical sites or businesses at all?
Jannie: Well, it’s impacted our work and people would think negatively, but it has impacted our work positively. It seems that our work has increased more than a hundred percent. The “Black Carolinian Speak’ has just exploded and we started off thinking this will be a four or five month project we’ll gather about 35 or 40 interviews. It has just expanded and because it has expanded. It is allowed us to attract funding to it, which is the reason we can now do an exhibit and do public programming across the state about how the pandemic affected African Americans because what we found was that it was very little at the Department of Archives and History about how the 1918 pandemic affected African Americans and so, we said not on our watch, not again. People will know how traumatic this was to our people. Our people are dying. Our people are being affected. Our people are being sick. So, we started out just looking at how it was affecting. Now, we’re looking at how is the vaccine affecting our people? Then it looks like “Black Carolinian Speak” is going to last past the epidemic because there’s so many voices in the African American community that we need to capture. Our work is just expanded so much. When the schools shut down last March, we found there a lot of negative assignments that were given to students to take home. We launched professional development sessions with the funding from the Department of Education. We’ve been busy doing for webinars for teachers across the state. We just had one this past Saturday. Our work has just increased exponentially, so pandemic aside we are busy.
…and I also want to ask a little bit about your favorite part of your work. What do you enjoy most about your work? What do you find most fulfilling?
Jannie: I am not a historian and I’m not an artist. My background is business. Tourism is my favorite thing because I like to travel. I don’t know anything about it, but I just like to either get on a plane or get in the car or get on a train and travel. I came by this work because my high school was proposed to be sold for a Walmart. I don’t know if there is a specific area. I have learned so much about my people in this process that I’m just in it, you know, whatever it takes to get it done. I’m just in it. I think the other thing that I that I do like is expressions I see on young people’s faces when we do in-school artists. We bring African American artists into the schools and to see the kids interact with these artists. For instance, we brought from New York an African American Opera Company to South Carolina for a week. Many of these kids had never heard of an opera. Had never heard people singing operatically, so it’s just about all phases of the work that just explodes in my mind and things that I never learned in school, these children have an opportunity to learn those things.
Dawn: I think for me personally, I’m also not a historian. I have a career in Communications and mostly corporate Communications. So, I do things like public service, pretty technical work. My greatest joy is learning more and more about history. I know enough to pass 8th grade social studies. I might know enough to pass some South Carolina college history courses. I did not know a lot of things like the history of we shall overcome is rooted in Charleston, South Carolina during a strike at the cigar factory. I did not know that there were massacres all across South Carolina’s white terror stretched across the state during Reconstruction—did not know that. I knew some of it happened. I knew there was lynching and Jim Crow and KKK, but I did not know about the towns that were massacred. I didn’t not know about Anthony Crawford and Abbeville. I didn’t know about the jailbreak in Union County. I didn’t know about so many. I didn’t know about the African American influence in the Revolutionary War. I didn’t know Robert Smalls wrote legislation in Congress for the first public schools in this country. There’s so much to learn that we have not been taught in school and that was still not learning in school. I think because history is so complex it’s very difficult to teach in a limited time frame. I think it’s an obligation of ours to make sure it gets into the consumer mindset, into everyday discussions, into decisions, and wisdom that the state makes in terms of public policy, in terms of education policy, and in terms of the judicial system in justice. Everything that we’re learning now needs to be a part of all of that and it is our obligation to make sure it is lifted into the everyday discussions in South Carolina. We think it improves the lives of everyone. That is my greatest joy.
Thank you for sharing—both of you. My last question is about where you would like to see the South Carolina Green Book within 5or 10 years. We briefly talked about future endeavors and the expansion of the South Carolina Green Book, but what are some long-term goals that you see happening for the Green Book?
Dawn: What I’d like to see is as many African American historic sites that are not recognized right now, recognized with either markers or on the national register, and put into the Green Book. We need to make sure they’re all documented, they’re all identified, and that they’re all part of the Green Book at least on this public platform, if not others. I would like to see the Green Book expand with more sites because I don’t think we’ve cast the net wide enough. I think we cast the net pretty wide for the amount of time and the resources we had at the time, but there’s always an opportunity to expand it and I think we should be about expanding it. I also think we should leverage what we consider success with the Green Book into the state’s investment in developing African American travel and tourism in South Carolina in terms of customer service training for some of these sites, highway signage to some of these sites, and investment in telling our story better than we have in the past. So, I would like to see us leverage the Green Book for that. I can imagine there are many, many other things that we can do with the Green Book, but those are two of the things that I think we should be doing. That’s a low-hanging fruit. Those are two things I think we should be doing right now.
Jannie: Dawn had just been a part of us for maybe a couple of years or so when this idea came about, and she just took it and ran with it. At the time, I was the Chairman of the Commission and the Executive Director of the Foundation and to have somebody with those skills to just grab hold of it and say, “I can do this,” was a blessing to me because it’s a massive job. I think that what we what we fail to do a lot is to make people aware of the fact that the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission gets only $25,000 a year from the South Carolina General Assembly. All the projects that we have talked about, we’ve had raised the money for it. That’s why I said when Dawn came on, it was like I was chairing the Commission, I’m running the Foundation, looking for money, so to have somebody with the skills that she brought to the Foundation at that time, was just a godsend. For those people who are listening, go to WeGOJA.org and take action.
Dawn: I do think that the WeGOJA Foundation could benefit from corporate partnerships. The work we do is so significant that I think that a corporate partner would benefit from working with us in our quest to lift the African American history and heritage into our everyday talk about history. The story is rich and compelling. We could trailblaze. We could blaze trails with this work. We are sitting on a gold mine. We have just got to mine, tap into it, get this information out there and it can be so much more than it is right now. For example, if I really wanted to do another tour, and we could do a gazillion tours in South Carolina, there should be one on the AME Churches in South Carolina—the historic ones. A lot of AME Churches (African Methodist Episcopal) were created just during Reconstruction—just after the Civil War. They started as brush arbors or they were pulled out of Baptist Churches that that belonged to their slave masters. These churches are revered and the communities in which they are located, but they’re not very well known statewide, and they have significant influence in our communities, and they have for more than a century. We need to do a tour of churches. I think even if it’s just a stain glass tour or steeple chase, it needs to be something that defines how faith has shaped this state because if its shaped African American sand African Americans shape the state, then faith has shaped this state. It is significant and influential. I think it’s taken for granted quite a bit to be honest with you. Any corporation that wants to partner with social justice, partner with good things about African Americans, the WeGOJA Foundation is wide open and ready for you. We do believe historic preservation is the first step towards social justice because without understanding how we got to where we are right now, you can create social justice solutions that aren’t sustainable—that are more or less built like a castle in the sand. You have to understand how justice was shaped after the Civil War, during Reconstruction, during Crow and segregation, how the KKK influenced that, what happened during the Civil Rights Movement to shape justice as well, how did we get into mass incarceration. All of those things are heritage and history that are not told on a regular basis that would help us shape social justice, if we knew about it. If people are really interested in social justice, they would invest in historic preservation like what the WeGOJA Foundation is doing. That’s my spiel to corporations.
Jannie: I think Dawn has said it well. I think sometimes—my thing is always it’s our story. It’s not black history. It’s not white history. It’s not Latin history. It’s our story and I think when Dawn talked about corporations, I think that many times I know their bottom line is profit, but partnering with an organization like us can be both physical profit in terms of cash as well as community profit and, you know, your organization will say to the community, “we value you,” and so I think that’s important.