Posted: September 3, 2020
September 2, 2020
Historic Charleston Foundation (HCF) is in opposition to the preferred route, known as Alternative 1, for widening SC Highway 41 through the Phillips Community, an historic African-American settlement community dating back to the 1870s. As Mount Pleasant and neighboring Berkeley County have experienced unprecedented growth in the last two decades placing pressure on this stretch of highway, HCF recognizes the need to relieve traffic congestion and improve road capacity. However, Alternative 1 will do irreparable harm to the Phillips Community, and we urge you to reject it and select Alternative 7a.
The Phillips Community is one of only a small handful of surviving historic African-American communities East of the Cooper. Phillips was established by freedmen in the 1870s who were able to purchase former plantation lands and settle an independent community. These formerly enslaved people built homes on tracts of land between two and twelve acres as landowners and became successful farmers, tradesmen and businessmen. The residents of Phillips, as in other Gullah Communities in Charleston County, until recently were largely self-sustaining and self-reliant, growing their own food and fishing, shrimping and crabbing in nearby creeks and rivers. The Phillips Community is rooted in Gullah traditions and values, and is rich in culture and history. Consequently, through a survey effort led by the Charleston County Planning Department in 2016, the Phillips Community became eligible to be included in the National Register of Historic Places, meaning it is a community worthy of preservation for its historical significance.
The Gullah culture also is manifested in traditional crafts using local natural materials, and the sweetgrass basket has become one of its most recognized symbols. The Phillips Community is located adjacent to the Sweetgrass Basket Traditional Cultural Property (TCP), located in this corridor of US 17 in north Mt. Pleasant. TCPs are properties eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places based on associations with the cultural practices, traditions, beliefs, lifeways, arts, crafts or social institutions of a living community. During the cultural resources survey conducted in 2009 for a road widening project for US 17 that resulted in this area of 17 being designated as a TCP, the Phillips Community was one of the settlement communities who participated in and contributed to the survey work.
Today, many of the people living in the Phillips Community are descendants of these original freedmen and live according to the same settlement patterns that their ancestors did. The updated survey of Charleston County Historic Resources in 2016 focused on documenting and recognizing the importance of African-American settlement communities throughout the County. The report cites, “the significance of these communities lies within their social organization and settlement pattern, in addition to the stories they have to tell.” The report cautioned against unprecedented growth and “as more people move to Charleston County, the need for new development threatens existing cultural resources.” Consequently, the report concludes with a series of recommendations to ensure that the County’s significant cultural and historic resources, like the Phillips Community, are not lost to future growth and development.
Indeed, it is ironic that the posture of the County in 2016 was to preserve and celebrate this community; and in 2020 the County is recommending destruction of the community, its social organization and settlement patterns. This is tragically reminiscent of the Crosstown project (now the Septima Clark Parkway) that was done in the 1960s, where little regard was given to the predominantly African-American residents, the hundreds of displaced families, and the destroyed homes and businesses.
Alternative 1 would irreparably disrupt and divide the Phillips Community, displace neighbors whose families have inhabited this community for generations, and encroach upon property that has been passed down through families over generations. The Phillips Community residents have thrived in this place for the last 150 years, and the traffic congestion in Mt. Pleasant along Highway 41 is not their fault. This community should not have to bear the burden for the strain to transportation resources caused by development that has occurred over the last 20 years. To widen Highway 41 through the Phillips Community is disrespectful at best and unconscionable at worst. This is a tremendous environmental justice issue that cannot be ignored.
The Phillips Community is vastly important to the Lowcountry and our rich and complex history. We urge you to reject Alternative 1 in favor of Alternative 7a so that the Phillips Community will be preserved and remain intact for the generations to come.