‘This is a first in the Upstate:’ $3.4 million grant will help create Black Heritage Trail

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 10:41 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 15, 2023 at 10:01 AM EST
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SENECA, S.C. (FOX Carolina) - A $3.4 million dollar grant will help preserve black history in Clemson and Seneca. The Mellon Foundation recently awarded Clemson University the money to create a three-part Black heritage walking trail.

“We’re busy and we’re glad to be busy” said Helen Rosemond-Saunders outside the Blue Ridge Community Center.

She’s now the director of the center, but before, she was a student there. It was the only high school in Oconee County for Black students from 1955 until 1969, when integration took place. The neighborhood around it is Perry Hill.

“There were barbershops, there were beauticians, there were stores, there were [laundromats], a dry cleaner” said Rosemond-Saunders describing the past. Much of those things are gone now, and the past is harder to see. But not for long.

“Our mission is to preserve African American history in this part of the upstate and tell that story that has either [been] forgotten, some of it’s lost, some of it is just now being recovered because there were no written records” said Shelby Henderson, the Executive Director of arts, history and culture, for the City of Seneca.

Henderson is one of the three leaders collaborating to create the Black Heritage Trail.

“There are African American or Black heritage trails all over the country. But there are no Black heritage trails in the upstate of South Carolina. So this is a first in the upstate” she said.

Henderson says the idea began years ago, with Clemson University professor, Dr. Rhondda Thomas.

“She introduced me to the idea of a trail, and I thought it was amazing,” said Henderson.

Later, Angela Agard, the executive director of the Clemson Area African American Museum joined the team. The trail will be a walk through the past, an interactive experience with artwork and signage detailing Black history in the Clemson area. It will be split in three locations; in Seneca, Clemson and on Clemson University’s campus.

“This trail is going to be for everyone, very family friendly, but also very factual. In fact here in Seneca we’re starting in the 1700s and coming up and I think that may surprise people” said Henderson.

Lessons about business, culture, sports, events, and education -- a topic Rosemond-Saunders believes is a critical lesson for Black children today.

“It is very important, to me, as an educator, as grandmama, to know where my mom, my grandma, went to school and how they sacrificed, for us and their children to have an education and really just get them to know the importance of education, that’s what I want,” Rosemond-Saunders explained.

They’re still in the planning phases for what content the trails will include and what it’ll look like. They’ll soon be hosting community input sessions. Henderson says by the end of 2025 the trial will be complete.