Local historian to talk on Colleton’s ‘lost’ black families on Feb. 16 | News | The Press and Standard
by The Press and Standard | February 5, 2016 5:00 am
Last Updated: February 3, 2016 at 1:49 pm
By KATRENA McCALL
Elizabeth Laney loves looking at the history, and people, in Walterboro whose history has not been recorded until now. Specifically, black families.
Although the Walterboro native has always been interested in history, Laney’s curiosity about the town’s black population started with a picture.
About 10-11 years ago, while working as an intern at the Colleton Museum, she was compiling a history of the Old Jail building, which was home to the museum at that time. A woman came in the museum with an old picture of the sheriff and his family. And in the background was a black family. “I thought, we’ll never know who that family is,” Laney said, because so little is recorded about blacks in the 1800-1900s.
“I got fascinated with telling the stories of black families whose stories weren’t being told … people in the backgrounds of pictures; people that families could see in the census records, but that no one talked about,” she said.
She began with the family in the photo. Her research found the photo showed the family of Adam Carter, who was the official county jailer for more than 20 years in the late 19th century. Carter later served as janitor for the courthouse, and his obituary listed him as “someone everyone in the county knew, black and white, and the only negro allowed to vote democratic,” Laney said. Carter died in the 1920s.
Another man significant, but little known, in Colleton’s history was Daniel Sanders, who was appointed Walterboro’s postmaster, a position he held for much of the late 1800s. “This was a black man who was appointed to a federal position in the 1800s,” she said, something that was rare in that time frame. She also found Sanders was a soldier in the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Sanders married Sophie Williams, who had been a slave in Walterboro. After his death, Williams had to give a deposition to prove Sanders was her husband, and part of that deposition told about her life as a slave and the man who owned her, Laney said.
Then there was Cyrus Singleton, who trained as a shoemaker with his father, but was listed as Walterboro’s lamplighter in 1900.
These are just a few highlights from some of the research Laney has done, which she will share with Walterboro residents on Feb. 16 in a talk at the museum, “Walterboro’s African-American Lives, 1870-1930.” She has now researched 7-8 Walterboro families, and hopes to eventually publish her findings.
But she only gets to work on her research in her spare time, as the 1999 Walterboro High graduate now works full-time as park interpreter for Redcliffe Plantation in Aiken. But a part of her heart is still in Walterboro. Her father, Jeff Laney, still lives in Walterboro. Her mother, Marian, now lives in Orangeburg but worked at FitCare in Walterboro for many years.
Laney is also curator of the Tuskegee Airman Exhibit at the Colleton Museum and the panels at the Walterboro Army Airfield Memorial Park.
“I love telling stories. I love digging into the past, putting together puzzles and sharing parts of history that people don’t know much about,” Laney said. “Whenever I get bored, I always turn back to the history of Walterboro. I’ll never truly leave.”
WALTERBORO’S AFRICAN-AMERICAN LIVES 1870-1930
Feb. 16, 6 p.m. at the Colleton Museum.
The African-American individuals and families who lived and worked in Walterboro during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The event is free and open to the public.