Latest COVID-19 numbers released by SCDHEC show the total number of people confirmed to have the virus, in the state, at 9,175. The agency’s May 20 Coronavirus update also showed the number of residents who died from the disease had reached 407.
Almost half of the COVID-19 fatalities in South Carolina (as of the week of May 5) were black residents, despite the demographic comprising just over a quarter of the state’s population (according to the 2010 Census, African Americans make up 27% of SC’s population).
This narrative is not unique to the Palmetto state. In mid-April, both state and national media reported how this demographic was disproportionately being impacted by the pandemic and the accompanying social and economic distressed it caused.
But what may be unique to South Carolina, is a new state-wide project that’s gathering the experiences of black residents, during this time. Ramon Jackson, Coordinator with the South Carolina Dept. of Archives and History, said the project, Black Carolinians Speak: Portrait of a Pandemic, will not only document what African-Americans in South Carolina are experiencing during this pandemic, but can also serve as valuable research tool and resource.
“These stories matter. When Americans get a cold; African-Americans catch pneumonia, and in this case, when America catches COVID, sizeable percentages of African-Americans are dying.”
The project has been online for about two weeks. Jackson said submissions already received through its web portal have included a wide range of information; including written testimonies, photographs and audio recordings. Unlike earlier pandemics, like the 1918 Spanish Flu, the Black Carolinians Speak: Portrait of a Pandemic will give the opportunity to preserve and share stories specifically about African-Americans.
He said a conversation about what the state’s dept. of archives and history had on file about African-
Americans during the Spanish Flu was very little; a few PDF attachments, a couple of book chapters.
“So you really have no real idea about what it was like to experience that pandemic for African-Americans, who made up at that time, the majority population of the state.”
Today, black residents make up 27% of the state’s population but almost half of the state’s COVID-19 related deaths. Jackson said documented and personally-explained existing inequalities and disparities, exacerbated by the pandemic, will help future generations seeking to understand how this global pandemic redefined what it mean to be black in South Carolina.
“We have to make sure that we collect these stories, preserve them for future generations and wherever possible, use these stories to influence public policy and push politicians to think more deeply about how these disparities shape our society.”
Information and documents submitted for the project will be housed within the African-American Heritage Commission’s papers at the state’s archive and history center on Parklane Road- available for researchers, historians, social scientists and regular citizens to view and study. The audio and digital material collection will also be available publically on the South Carolina Electronic Records Archive and the online records index, allowing people to view the materials from their homes.
The Commission plans to collect stories throughout the duration of the health crisis and, whenever possible, connect with participants to conduct oral history interviews.