Bringing evidence from archives and genealogy, the context surrounding the Reconstruction era and the significance of Hamburg was taught and discussed at a forum on July 9.
During the first commemoration weekend of Hamburg-Carrsville’s African-American Historic District, local historians and university professors discussed Hamburg and what the community can do to continue learning.
“Sometimes when you ignore people’s stories, it’s hard to gain people’s trust to tell you their story and it’s been a long but oh so rewarding process,” said Brenda Baratto, researcher and one of the Hamburg organizers.
“The Hamburg massacre was such an important moment in Reconstruction. And the Reconstruction was such an important moment in the history of the United States. It was a moment of possibility,” said Augusta University associate professor John Hayes. “…You may have heard that there was a long era of racial slavery followed by a long era of segregation and it was not until the 1960s that the civil rights movement took hold. really changed something. It just doesn’t. It erases Reconstruction from history. It forgets how drastic things were in the 12 years since the end of the Civil War.
The two-hour panel tour explored the history of Hamburg, starting with its founding, its economic impact on the railway and how it was revived during the reconstruction era. Participants were able to ask questions about how the past affects current politics in the United States
“Listening to your presentation, if I hadn’t known, I would think you were talking about the current times in the United States of America,” Trina Mackie said.
“As African Americans, we know racism exists. We know that systemic racism exists. We live this life every day, which is why we need repairs,” Donna Wesby told panelists. “…Why are you talking?” Why are you challenging the status quo? What we see in the world today is that there is a lot of ignorance, a lot of fear, and people who feel like the truth about what African Americans have done to help build this country somehow shared this information is going to take something away from them.
Hayes, along with local historian Peter Hughes, shared the importance of documented history and the context of events before and after the Hamburg Massacre. Both cited an 1876 U.S. Senate report with volumes of testimony from the event.
“This report is the only place where both parties have been able to tell their story. A few months after the event, the senators came and called everyone they could find…and the senators just wrote down everything they said. They asked a ton of questions and wrote down the answers to a ton of questions and that was it,” Hughes explained. “…For some reason the report only publishes the testimony of these witnesses, plus a lot of loose stuff, including a list of shooting clubs in South Carolina. Really, just evidence from a trial without judgement.
“Three volumes, 2,500 pages of testimony about what happened in the Hamburg massacre,” Hayes said. “Everyone was united. Even days after the massacre, Prince Rivers issued warrants for the arrest of 87 white men and you can read their names.
According to historians, the era of reconstruction ended shortly after the Hamburg Massacre.
Guided tours on church buses were organized by local historian and organizer Wayne O’Bryant. His knowledge of Hamburg as well as local and secret black history led attendees to the location of Old Hamburg, Carpentersville, Palmetto Park and Pond, and the McKie-Meriwether Monument.
O’Bryant stresses the importance of sharing and telling the stories of the people of Hamburg and Carrsville because of their impact on art and culture in the CSRA region.
“Hamburg became a microcosm of what was happening across the state. What happened in South Carolina, when you talk about the southern states and rebuilding, but in South Carolina because of Charleston and the ports and the slave trade, South Carolina was 60 % African American and in the first election after the Civil War…what they saw on the state level, they saw on a microcosm of that same political power in Hamburg.
“There’s almost 200 years of history in this little community and it’s a very, very rich history,” O’Bryant said. “… This is the best place to tell the region’s vast story of African American contributions to Augusta and the surrounding CSRA.”
The first Hamburg-Carrsville Memorial Weekend concludes with worship at the Alexander Pope Jr. Resource Center in North Augusta on Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m.