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College of Arts & Sciences
Institute for African American Research


SAVE THE DATE! Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher to speak at USC on April 13

2015 Senior Summer Fellow, Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher, will be speaking at USC as a part of IAAR's Guest Lectureship Series. The event will take place on Wednesday, April 13 at 7:00 p.m. in Gambrell Hall Room 431.

The Institute for African American Research is pleased to bring Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher, Associate Professor from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to USC to speak about the research she conducted as IAAR's 2015 Senior Summer Fellow. The event, "The Activity of Research: The Embers Within a Black Community" will take place Wednesday, April 13th at 7:00 p.m. in Gambrell Hall room 431. A small reception will follow the talk. Below you will find an abstact of her talk. Questions? Please contact Lindsay Arave at 803/777-4472 or Arave@mailbox.sc.edu


Dr. Kwakiutl Dreher is currently at work on a work-in-progress that is in its very nascent stages but with five (5) chapters completed. The 2015 Senior Summer Fellowship awarded to Dr. Dreher by the Institute for African American Research at the University of South Carolina made possible for her to conduct primary research to tease out some of the rudiments of her endeavor and set the stage for the development of two of those chapters. Her newest undertaking is creative writing project tentatively entitled Widow’s Row. The residents assigned this nomenclature to the stretch of homesteads in their community, when by the 1990s, all of the men within this block had died leaving behind a row of widows. The story required historical and archival research on the development of this community in Columbia, South Carolina. The Senior Summer Fellowship by IAAR enabled Dr. Dreher to conduct primary and archival research, with the bulk of it coming from oral histories collected from residents and/or their children.

Synopsis of Project

Widow’s Row is set during the post-civil rights era of the 1970s in my neighborhood Burton Heights, an all-black neighborhood in Columbia, South Carolina settled by my family and other African American families in the 1950s during southern segregation. The post-civil rights era is an important study because contemporary popular culture has been preoccupied with the plight of African Americans during antebellum slavery and in the 1960s. For example, Quentin Tarantino’s film Django Unchained (2012) tells the story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave who sets out with Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz), a bounty hunter, to rescue his love Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from a Mississippi plantation; Steve McQueen’s film Twelve Years a Slave (2013) chronicles the life of Solomon Northup, a free black violinist who is abducted in New York and sold into slavery; and, Ava DuVernay’s film Selma (2014) which explores the voting rights campaign of the 1960s led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama. In literature, Kathryn Stockett’s book The Help (2009), and Tate Taylor’s film of the same name (2011) delves into the life of the African American domestic in the white household during the 1960s. Poetry and fiction received widespread currency in popular culture during the 1970s, with Ntozake Shange’s choreo poem for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf (1977) receiving critical acclaim from the theater community. Set in the 1970s, Shange explores the gains made by African American women post-civil rights; yet, when Tyler Perry produced the film For Colored Girls (2010) from Shange’s choreo poem, the filmmaker set the story in the twenty-first century.

History reveals that the African American Community of Columbia practiced the philosophies of two of the preeminent African American thinkers of the 20th century: Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois. Washington believed economic self-help via the vocational arts; Du Bois advocated for formal liberal arts education. The practice of these two belief systems produced some of the most reputable artisans, educators, and politicians in the state. They, in turn, created a strong and resilient African American middle class that more often than not is ignored by southern fiction writers who favor stories of the poor (black and white), the plantation, and bigotry and race relations.

The Post-civil rights era of the 1970s is THE time when African Americans firmly believed that the civil rights movement successfully paved the way for African Americans to enjoy the socio-cultural historical and political fruits of that movement. School busing integrated K-12 as well as colleges and universities across the state; a new batch of African American politicians assumed their place in the South Carolina legislature; and as the ‘white only’ signs came down, retail stores, restaurants, and other businesses opened their doors to African Americans. Integration, however, brought with it a deluge of devastation to the African American woman entrepreneur, as evidenced by the research I gathered in Columbia summer 2015. For example, my research in the Columbia phone books uncovered how integration delivered a deathblow to the African American seamstress when African American women were allowed not only to enter in but to try on clothes in former ‘white only’ retail / department stores once segregation was dismantled. These seamstresses, as a result, witnessed their dressmaking careers expire. This fact is heart-rending especially given that many of them resolved being the local seamstress when a career in fashion design did/could not materialize for various and sundry reasons, one of them being the push by society for matrimony. They leaned on their craftsmanship to foster and to nurture an identity within their own communities; the community of women, in turn, honored them by allowing the seamstress to design clothing specific to their body type. The final product rendered to each customer a one-of-a-kind wardrobe not replicated by anyone else; so, each piece of clothing sewed made a woman special. The onslaught of integration forced the African American dressmaker to put the Singer sewing machine in storage.

My question for this aspect of research, then, is in what ways did the African American woman entrepreneur (re)negotiate her identity once the Singer was put away?