Student Research at the College of Charleston: Joshua Parks
The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture currently has two graduate assistants on staff. Graduate assistants can come from various departments on campus, but during the 2020-2021 academic year we have two history graduate students, Olivia Williams and Joshua Parks, this is their second year working with us. They are both completing their degree programs by writing a thesis. Below you will find a description of Parks’ thesis and why this research is important.
My name is Joshua Parks. I am a fifth generation Sol Legare Island Gullah Geechee descendant. I am currently pursuing a Masters in History with a concentration in Public History at the College of Charleston. I chose to study the Seashore Farmer’s Lodge No.767 on Sol Legare Island as my thesis topic because it is dear to me, considering it is the history of my family and my community.
The Seashore Farmer’s Lodge, known simply as “the Lodge” by locals, was a Black benevolent society, and one of the first institutions that freedmen organized after emancipation on James Island. The Lodge’s significance to this isolated, rural, Gullah Geechee sea island community from the late 19th century until the mid-20th century cannot be overstated. Overall, this place-based history will illuminate how the Lodge was an anchor point that housed a farmers union (which operated as a secret society chartered (image) by the International Liberty Union [image of charter]), a burial society, a community bank and insurance company, and a place for recreation and shelter. The Lodge supported the development of several schoolhouses on Sol Legare Island and set the foundation for the emergence of Mosquito Beach, a nearby site where African Americans congregated freely to socialize during the segregation era, and whose significance would soon surpass the Lodge’s by the mid-20th century.
This thesis analyzes the historical role that benevolent societies played in the development of Black communities in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It briefly examines the origins of Black benevolent societies to contextualize the emergence of the Seashore Farmer’s Lodge as a central point for other community-led mutual aid networks and highlights the conditions which encouraged the Lodge to come into existence. This study also examines the functions and the services the Lodge offered the community of Sol Legare and beyond and explores its cultural significance to the isolated Gullah Geechee farming and fishing community in the context of the sociopolitical setting of the time. Overall, this study puts the Lodge in conversation with earlier Black benevolent societies and acknowledges the magnitude of its existence in the struggle for Black self-determination in the United States.
In addition to a published thesis, I will also be creating a complementary documentary film. Using a series of interviews from Lodge members, their descendants, and the community in general, this short documentary will center the Lodges’ members, descendants, and the Sol Legare Island community in general to talk about the significance of the Lodge to the development of Sol Legare Island.
This thesis would not have been possible without the indispensable archival materials provided by the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, the Seashore Farmers’ Lodge Museum and Cultural Center and the endless support of the Sol Legare Island community, and my thesis advisory committee.