The Mann-Simons Site, home to the same entrepreneurial African American family for nearly 130 years, traces the journey of Columbia’s African American community from enslavement through urban renewal.
While only one house stands today, the Mann-Simons Site historically was a collection of commercial and domestic spaces owned and operated by the same African American family from at least 1843 until 1970. Midwife Celia Mann and boatman Ben Delane made this site their home by the early 1840s. Members of Columbia's small population of free people of color, the couple challenged social norms at a time in which most Africans and African Americans were enslaved. Successive generations of their family negotiated the eras in which the capital city evolved from Jim Crow into the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Threat of demolition in 1970 galvanized a grassroots movement that saved the remaining structure, which opened as a house museum in 1978.
"The Mann-Simons Site is important because it is the epitome of an American story. You have a couple who basically walked to freedom from Charleston to Columbia, started a number of businesses, raised a family, helped to literally build a solid community here in Columbia... It’s one of the most important sites in terms of history and historical significance in South Carolina. And the fact that this organization has taken the time to look at all of the archaeological objects that were uncovered, to be able to strengthen and tell this story of the African American spirit of entrepreneurship and survival and liberation is so important to the country’s narrative." —Dr. Porchia Moore
Collections within the Mann-Simons House largely reflect the entrepreneurial spirit of the family during the late 1890s through 1920s. A multi-year archaeological excavation was completed in February 2012, during which more than 60,000 artifacts were uncovered. Future interpretation at the Mann-Simons Site will trace the journey of Columbia’s African American community from enslavement through urban renewal. Drawing from over eight years of intensive archaeological excavation and research, the site highlights the challenges, successes, and longevity experienced by generations of the family who lived here from the late 1830s through 1970, with particular emphasis on the Jim Crow era of the late 1890s through the 1920s.
After more than a decade of research, a series of archeological digs that uncovered thousands of artifacts and months of renovations, a re-interpretation of the Mann-Simons Site led to the new permanent exhibit, which tell a richer and more complex story of the African American families who lived and worked at the site. The Mann-Simons Outdoor Museum now features five “ghost structures,” frames of buildings that once stood on the site, including a former lunch counter, grocery store, outhouse and residences. Interactive interpretative signage tells the story of these former structures. This outdoor museum is a first for South Carolina and one of a handful of exhibits of its kind nationwide. The new exhibition opened for the first time during the 38th annual Jubilee: Festival of Black History & Culture on September 17, 2016.
The new exhibit and renovations at the Mann-Simons Site were made possible in part by the following sponsors: City of Columbia, NBSC a division of Synovus Bank, Member FDIC, Columbia Chapter of the Links, McDonald’s of Columbia, Gloria and Marshall James, Richland County Conservation Commission and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
Did you know?
Historic Columbia maintains a permanent collection of more than 6,500 historic artifacts spanning the 18th, 19th and early-20th centuries, including a growing collection of locally made or used textiles, decorative arts, fine art, tools, and historic images. Learn more
"It is a truly outstanding example of a small museum doing public history right: Historic Columbia has transformed a traditional house museum into a forward-thinking platform for community engagement and education." —Lydia Brandt
The Mann-Simons Site has received the following awards:
- South Eastern Museums Conference 2018 Excellence in Exhibitions Gold Award
- 2018 South Carolina Historic Preservation Stewardship Award
- National Council on Public History’s 2017 Outstanding Public History Award
- Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies’ 2013 Award of Merit
- South Carolina African American Heritage Commission’s 2013 Organization Award
More About the Mann-Simons Site
In 2016, Historic Columbia reopened the Mann-Simons Site with newly installed exhibits, interactive touchscreens, recorded audio and numerous visuals – enhancing the overall experience for each guest. I recently had the opportunity to take a tour and was blown away by the comprehensive updates Historic Columbia had incorporated into the...