Property Ownership

In contrast to the modern conveniences enjoyed within some Columbia neighborhoods at that time, documentation of Columbia from January through March 1904 by photographer Julian Dimock (below) illustrated basic living conditions found in some, often African American, areas of the capital city.

Neg. no AMNH 48051 (Photo by Julian Dimock), courtesy of the Library, American Museum of Natural History

Owning your own home grants a freedom while engendering pride and respect. This was particularly true for Columbia's antebellum free black population, many of whose members had once been the legal property of others. After the Civil War, property ownership promised the hope of greater equality – at least to a degree – in a society filled with official and unofficial inequalities. The words of activist and educator Booker T. Washington, written in 1899, still resonate today:

¹The material, visible and tangible elements [of civilization] … teach a lesson that almost nothing else can…. [T]he possession of property is an evidence of mental discipline, mental grasp and control … of fixedness of character and purpose…. From every standpoint of interest it is the duty of the Negro himself … to see that the Negro be helped forward as fast as possible towards the possession of these evidences of civilization…. What I am anxious for is for the Negro to be in actual possession of all the elements of the highest civilization. 

This advertisement for a real estate auction (below), ran in the May 21, 1915 edition of The State newspaper, reveals the concerns most white Columbians had during the early years of suburbanization – a trend that continued unabated and largely acknowledged throughout the better part of the 20th century.

Image courtesy of South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia

²Property promised the hope of equality – at least in some measure – in a social environment inundated with official and unofficial inequalities. “Every law passed relating to the Negro,” wrote African American journalist W. T. Andrews in the Nashville Globe in 1917, “has been passed with the intent of controlling his labor and drawing his circle of freedom into similar and smaller compass.”

³By the early 20th century, social segregation and political exclusion – structural disenfranchisement – had come to be seen by many white Southerners as an essential part of the “Southern way of life.” In contrast to the modern conveniences enjoyed within some Columbia neighborhoods at that time, documentation of Columbia from January through March 1904 by photographer Julian Dimock illustrated basic living conditions found in some, often African American, areas of the capital city. Neg. no AMNH 48051 (Photo by Julian Dimock), courtesy of the Library, American Museum of Natural History

For a more thorough exploration of this topic, click here.

¹Washington, Booker T., The Negro and the Signs of Civilization (Tuskegee, Alabama: Normal School Steam Press, 1899), 3.

²Andrews, W. T. “The Causes of Negro Migration from the South,” reprinted in The Journal of Negro History (1978, 63(4), 366-372), 367.

³Southern, David W., “Beyond Jim Crow Liberalism: Judge Waring’s Fight against Segregation in South Carolina, 1942-52,” The Journal of Negro History (1981, 66(3):209-227), 209.

Unless otherwise noted, all images are from the Historic Columbia Foundation Collection.