Preserving the Legacy of Charleston’s Black Community

Black and white photographic negative of the front view of a circular snack bar in Lincoln Theatre showing snacks and drinks and snack boards with prices. Lincoln Theatre was once an African American entertainment venue. “Lincoln” written in square tiles on the floor in the foreground with movie poster in the background. Walter N. Boags Collection. Courtesy of Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.

The College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture was awarded $20,000 by Coastal Community Foundation (CCF) as a part of the Facebook Grant for Sustaining Black Communities. The Avery Research Center was one of 37 local Black-led and Black-serving nonprofits that CCF identified as supporting innovation, creativity and resiliency.

The Avery Research Center will be using the funds to digitize some of its vulnerable photograph collections, including the Coards Studio photographs and records and the photographs in the Walter N. Boags collection. Some items, such as the negatives in the Boags collection, are degrading and in urgent need of digitization to preserve the historic images.

The photographs in the Coards and Boags collections document the lives, activities, organizations and events that sustained Black Charleston. They capture the infrastructure that no longer exists.

Fortunately, thanks to CCF, the Avery Research Center will be able to hire a part-time archivist and a College of Charleston student employee to assist with the digitization project.

Black and white photographic negative of Gresham-Meggett School Homecoming Queen seated and wearing her crown and cape and “Miss W. Gresham-Meggett” written on a wall behind her. Walter N. Boags Collection. Courtesy of Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.

“We are grateful to Coastal Community Foundation for this opportunity,” says Erica Veal, project archivist and interpretation specialist at the Avery Research Center. “The Avery [Research Center]’s mission is not just to gather collections, but to preserve and promote them. By digitizing these images and making them accessible to researchers and the public via social media, we proclaim that Black lives matter — that we were here. In doing so, we hope to inspire current and future generations to build on these legacies.”

The Coards collection comes from a photography studio in downtown Charleston at 78 Line Street, which was owned and operated by Joseph and Rachel Coards from the 1930s to 1990s. The images include families, individuals, community and social events, organizations and architecture.

The Boags collection comes from the Boags Modern Arts Photography Studio, also located in downtown Charleston at 32 Spring Street, which operated from 1949 to the late 1970s, as well as from Boags’s freelance photography, which he shot through the 1980s. The black-and-white and color negatives and prints focus on individuals, groups, social and cultural organizations, school photographs and architecture.

Thanks to the CCF funding, the Avery Research Center will be able to capture and save a vital visual history of Charleston’s Black community.