Bridging the Gaps
State commission honors James Island historian for book, activism
By Charlie Morrison
The South Carolina African-American Heritage Commission’s (SCAAHC) presented James Island-born historian Eugene Frazier Sr. with the group’s 2011 “Preserving our Places in History” Individual Award, at their January 27 annual meeting and awards luncheon, held at the South Carolina Archives and History Center in Columbia. Frazier beat out nine other finalists in winning the commendation, an honor that is given for furthering the preservation of Black history in the state. Of Frazier’s many recent contributions to that cause, the author’s recently published historical non-fiction work, A History of James Island, Slave Descendants and Plantation Owners: The Bloodline, likely played a decisive role in the 15-member commission naming Frazier this year’s recipient. Frazier was on hand to receive the commendation, as were a number of members of his extended family.
“To me, I knew it was an honor, but my daughters and other people were more excited because it was something that I took a little bit for granted because I wanted to do this, I wanted to continue in this field,” says Frazier, in a recent interview with JIM. “My thing is all about the telling of history from an African-American perspective. You can try to re-write all you want about history, about African-Americans, ‘it was about slavery, it was about States’ rights,’ but it’s double talk. I try to emphasize the point that I believe in fair play. When I look at right and wrong I don’t look at it as a white or black situation, I look at it on whether or not it’s true.”
As for his own work, The Bloodline offers readers the rare opportunity to learn the history of James Island plantation-by-plantation, family-by-family. The book provides a previously missing piece to the proverbial puzzle of life on the island pre-and post-Civil War. The Bloodline chronicles the genealogy of the families native the island. Black and white, slave and slave owner, each of James Island’s founding families are treated with the same, unbiased perspective, or as Frazier would say, the two groups are “being fed with the same spoon.”
Frazier acquired that colloquialism from his mother on the day he embarked on what was to be his life’s calling, the day he joined the police force. He would remain in law enforcement for more than three decades. Over those years, it would be his mother’s wisdom that kept him on track. “I’ll never forget what my mother told me when joined the police force,” Frazier recounts. “‘You’ve become a police officer … you’re a man now, but remember this, treat everyone equally, and feed everyone with the same spoon. Don’t do anything to anyone else that you wouldn’t want to have done to you.'” Her advice would be needed. Joining a nearly all-white police force in the mid-1950s was not for the thin-skinned. Though Frazier was already a Korean War veteran, he would not find his future colleagues so quick to thank him for his service. “I knew that to ever be recognized, I had to be twice as good as my white counterparts,” Frazier says.
The injustice of a segregated society was thrust upon Frazier at an early age. Textbooks of the era had little to offer a youthful Frazier in the way of his own reality. That Frazier was denied the access to his own history is significant, and became the driving force of his writing. He says his motivation for putting pen to paper began with his family. “My thing is all about the telling of history from an African-American perspective. When I was young and growing up there was nothing I was reading about us,” says Frazier. “My father was a history buff, though he wasn’t an educated man. His thing was always telling us children, (ten girls and two boys), to learn who our parents, and our grandparents were. I would wonder, reading all these things written about James Island and South Carolina, what role did the African-American play, because there was nothing written about us.”
That memory provoked Frazier to embark on the monumental task of building the genealogy that forms the backbone of his most recent book. The hundreds upon hundreds of hours interviews, research, writing, and editing required to write The Bloodline was a labor of love for Frazier. It represented the frustration of his youth come full circle.
Frazier now backs up his words by addressing his audience whenever he can. Over the years, he has visited countless area schools to address students on an number of topics like James Island’s and their own collective history, segregation, the sharecropping era, slavery, and the civil rights movement.
On that topic, and that of the state of the Black community as a whole, Frazier reminds us once again to profit from past experience. “We’re on the way, and we’ve made progress, and we can see the light on the horizon. But we’ve still got a ways to go yet,” says Frazier. “It’s all about teaching our children not forget where they came from. In order to know your destiny and where you’re going you have to know where you came from.”