August 1, 2008
African-American camp meetings focus of upcoming McKissick Museum exhibit
A new photography exhibit detailing the cultural history of African-American camp meetings in the Carolinas will open Aug. 9 at McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina.
The exhibit, “This Far by Faith: Carolina Camp Meetings, an African American Tradition,” boasts more than 42 large black-and-white photographs by Dr. Minuette Floyd, an associate professor of art at the university, and is accompanied by text panels and video footage of camp meetings held in seven locations in the Carolinas.
The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will remain on display through March 14, 2009.
Floyd says the weeklong African-American camp meetings, held annually from the mid-1800s to the present in designated campgrounds during harvest time (July through October), play an important role in maintaining a sense of cultural history and community identity and in strengthening family relationships.
“People travel many miles to the camps each year so that they can renew friendships and see family members and friends they haven’t seen in a long time. Sometimes, there will be four or five generations of family members present,” Floyd said. The camp meeting is an important part of the historical, cultural, social and religious heritage of African Americans. I especially want children to understand that importance because they will be the future campground leaders.”
Floyd’s photos range in size from 11-by-14 inches to 16-by-20 inches and capture different aspects of the camp meeting, including the tents, structure and arbor; the food, games and activities; the preaching and music; and the gathering and reminiscing of people.
Her camp photography was funded by grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the South Carolina Arts Commission.
A grant by the South Carolina Humanities Council enabled McKissick staff to document camp meetings in South Carolina over the course of several years and to create the exhibit.
“McKissick has been working for several years with Floyd and other artists and scholars to document the unique setting of South Carolina camp meetings. With support from the South Carolina Humanities Council we were able to produce a film by Stan Woodward on five Lowcountry sites,” said Saddler Taylor, chief curator of folklife and research. “What is so remarkable about Floyd’s work is that it not only captures the traditions of these religious settings, but also relates them to a vibrant contemporary observance.”
Southerners, black and white, in the antebellum South would travel great distances to attend religious gatherings held at campgrounds and led by “circuit” preachers.
“For African-American slaves, it was one of the few places they could meet and enjoy some sense of freedom,” Floyd said. “They brought everything they needed to survive, from tents to chickens.”
Floyd says the African-American camp meetings grew out of white camp meetings, where slaves worshipped with or whose camps were on the back side of the white campgrounds. The camp structure was similar, but the style of preaching and music was distinct. The land or grounds were either sold or given to African Africans by white land owners to use for the religious camp meetings. Owners of the campgrounds are called trustees.
Over time, canvas tents have been replaced by wooden ones that have porches and plank benches and that can be handed down to the next generation. The set-up of the tents has remained the same, placed in a circle around a tabernacle or brush arbor so that the religious nature of the camp meeting remains the focus.
Floyd, whose parents took her and her siblings to camp meetings each year, said she grew up thinking that attending a camp meeting was something everyone did. Her memories of her childhood experiences are as vivid as her photographs.
“I remember sitting under the arbor listening to the preachers preach, kicking the sawdust covered floors with my feet, walking around the grounds and eating candy apples and cotton candy,” said Floyd. “I remember the countless hugs I received that were nearly always accompanied by a ‘You sure have grown.’ I remember my parents carrying on long conversations with people that they had not seen since the last camp meeting.”
Attending camp meetings as an adult, Floyd became fascinated by the gatherings’ simplicity, beauty and cultural richness.
McKissick is the only Columbia museum to offer free regular admission. Located on the university’s historic Horseshoe, the museum features two permanent collections and a number of rotating temporary exhibits and provides educational and cultural programming. McKissick is open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. It is closed Sundays and holidays.
For additional information on “This Far by Faith: Carolina Camp Meetings, an African American Tradition,” contact Ja-Nae Epps at 803-777-7251. For more information about McKissick Museum, visit www.cas.sc.edu/mcks.
About Dr. Minuette Floyd
Dr. Minuette Floyd is an associate professor and coordinator of the art education program at the University of South Carolina. She is director of the Young Artists Workshop, a community outreach program for children that is taught by students majoring in art education. Floyd’s research focuses on multicultural art education, interdisciplinary art instruction and folk traditions and has been funded by grants from the S.C. Humanities Council, the S.C. Arts Commission and the National Endowment of the Arts. Her awards include the National Outstanding Performance in Higher Education Award (2003), the Mary J Rouse Award for Art Education (2002) and the S.C. Art Education Assn. Award for Art Education (2001). She is chairman of the Committee on Multiethnic Concerns, an affiliate of the National Art Education Assn.
Carolina camps featured in “This Far by Faith:
Carolina Camp Meetings, an African American Tradition.”
Camp Welfare (1876)
Camp Welfare in Fairfield County was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Zion in 1876 so that African Americans, who previously had attended white churches with their masters’ families, could worship. The camp earned its name from its role as a safe house for travelers who were said to have “fared well” during their stay along the road between Camden and Blackstock. It was purchased in 1878 by five trustees and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
Mount Carmel Campground (1870)
Isom Caleb Clinton, a former slave who was ordained a bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Zion in 1892, founded the campground as an interdenominational gathering spot. Located 10 miles south of Lancaster, the campground features 145 tents today, each built from slab, plywood, press board or cement blocks, where people gather after Labor Day. The campground was dedicated as a historic site in 1981.
St. Paul Campground (1880)
Twenty years after slavery, four leaders of the St. Paul community bought the land for the campground. Held the second week of October, the camp has many traditions, including campers who convene the meeting by marching the grounds singing, “It’s Camp Meeting Time on the Hill.” The 70 tents are arranged in a circle beneath tall pine trees on 113 acres of land near Harleyville on St. Paul Road. Courthouse records show that the land was purchased for $210.
Shady Grove Campground (1870)
The Shady Grove, also known as “Black Paradise” to the first campers who worshipped there, has held its camp meeting the third week of October since 1870 with the exception of 1918 because of the influenza pandemic. The history of the campground indicates that rice plantation owner S.M. Knight asked ex-slave Ceaser Wolfe for his help in gathering the rice crop in exchange for a parcel of land that could be used for worship services.
Tucker’s Grove Campground (early 1870s)
Seven acres of land, along with 100 tents, constitute Tucker’s Grove Campground, which was purchased by William C. Tucker in 1878. The land had previously been used for white camp meetings. The campground’s original arbor was made of heavy timber, constructed using a tongue, groove and peg method, and had a wood shingle roof. In time, it was reinforced with metal, and the roof was replaced with tin. The camp meeting has been held each August with the exception of one year in the 1950s because of a polio epidemic. Located in Lincoln County, N.C., Tucker’s Grove was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
McKenzie’s Grove Campground (1876)
The African Methodist Episcopal Church founded McKenzie’s Grove Campground in 1876. At some point, a road was re-rerouted through the center of the grounds, but this didn’t deter the loyal campers. To preserve privacy around the 20 tents and to muffle the sound of passing cars, the campers built a wall. The camp meeting is held in September on Shiloh Church Road in Catawba County, N.C.
Mott’s Grove Campground (1872)
This small campground of 30 tents is named for Dr. John J. Mott, who came upon a group of African Americans having a worship service in the woods one evening. Mott, a physician who became the leader of the North Carolina Republican Party, gave the land, after the Civil War, to the African-American community to use for camp meetings. The group meets each August at Mott’s Grove, located near Terrell on Sherrill’s Ford Road in Catawba County, N.C.