The Mann-Simons Site, home to the same entrepreneurial African American family for nearly 130 years, now traces the journey of Columbia’s Black 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 Black 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.
A multi-year archaeological excavation, completed in February 2012, uncovered more than 60,000 artifacts. Drawing from this excavation and eight years of intensive 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 Simons’ family’s entrepreneurial spirit during 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 more than 60,000 artifacts, and months of renovations, a re-interpretation of the Mann-Simons Site led to the house’s new permanent exhibit, which tell a richer and more complex story of the Black families who lived and worked at the site. Furthermore, 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, as well as wayside interpretive signage. This outdoor museum is a first for South Carolina and one of a handful of exhibits of its kind nationwide. 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.
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