Robert Jordan’s “The Wheel of Time”
This exhibit features materials from the author’s vast body of work, including literary drafts in various states of revision, correspondence, photographs, promotional materials, prop weapons, costumes, and personal effects.
On Display in Special Collections, Addlestone Library
Artifacts of Oppression
Slave Tags from the holdings of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
On Display in Special Collections, Addlestone Library
October 15 – November 23, 2021
Slave tags, also referred to as slave hire badges, were produced in Charleston from 1800 to 1865 and functioned as a way to control and regulate the work and whereabouts of African descended people who were enslaved. These small, typically copper tags were sold by the city to enslavers and were stamped with the occupations of enslaved workers who often wore them sewn into their clothing. People who were enslaved held dozens of specialized occupations in 19th century Charleston. These included skilled trades such as porter, mechanic, and servant.
Enslavers used the tags to track the movements of those who they enslaved as they were hired out to do work for others in the city. The majority of the earnings generated by the person hired out were kept by the enslaver but in some cases, they were able to keep a portion of the profit. In those cases, the small earnings were frequently saved in hopes of purchasing freedom, the freedom of others, or housing for family members and loved ones.
Several decades before slave tags became widely used, the City of Charleston passed a mandate known as the Free Badge Law in 1783. This law required free Black and mixed-race people to purchase and wear free tags as a method of identifying and controlling the movement and productive labors of free people of color within Charleston’s city limits. The law did not require the display of dates, indicating they were likely valid for life, with perhaps an annual renewal fee imposed by the city. Issued for only six years, the Free Badge Law was repealed in 1789. Only 500 to 600 of these tags were ever made, and today, only 10 of them have been identified.
Not long after the Free Badge Law was repealed, the City of Charleston began requiring free persons of color to pay an annual “capitation tax” or head tax, requiring people to essentially pay the City for their “free” status. Since the white ruling class could not benefit directly from the labor of free persons of color, it enacted an ordinance that taxed them to make up for the perceived lost income.
It is essential to acknowledge that the original purpose of the slave hire system and the tags used to enforce it, the Free Badge Law, and the system of keeping capitation tax records were all rooted in the subjugation of Black lives.
The recent discovery of a slave tag on the campus of the College of Charleston is a powerful reminder of the legacies and contributions of people enslaved in Charleston and their connections to the College. They worked to make the bricks in the walls of our buildings, the iron fences that grace our green spaces, and more. Slave tags are artifacts of oppression. Centuries later, they are on display so we can tell the stories of the people whose labor was stolen and acknowledge their contributions in creating and shaping the institutions, spaces, and culture of Charleston and the College as we know it today.
Sources consulted and to learn more about Slave Tags and Free Tags
Articles and Books
Dawson, Victoria. “Copper Neck Tags Evoke the Experience of American Slaves Hired Out as Part-Time Laborers.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution, February 2003. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/copper-neck-tags-evoke-experience-american-slaves-hired-out-part-time-laborers-76039831/.
Gershon, Livia. “This Rare Copper Badge Tells a Story of Slavery in 19th-Century Charleston.” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution, June 24, 2021. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/slave-badge-found-charleston-180978055/.
Greene, Harlan., Harry S. Hutchins, and Brian E. Hutchins. Slave Badges and the Slave-Hire System in Charleston, South Carolina, 1783-1865 . Jefferson, N.C: McFarland & Co., 2004.
Kerr, Amanda. “CofC to Pay Tribute to Enslaved and Indigenous People at Unveiling of New Solar Pavilion.” The College Today. October 11, 2021. https://today.cofc.edu/2021/10/11/cofc-to-pay-tribute-to-enslaved-and-indigenous-people-at-unveiling-of-new-solar-pavilion/.
Lutz, Alicia. “Avery Research Center Houses Badges From Charleston’s Past.” The College Today. February 10, 2017. https://today.cofc.edu/2017/02/10/charleston-slave-freedman-badges/.
Mercer, Amy S. “CofC Faculty, Students Discover Slave Tag on Campus.” The College Today. June 15, 2021. https://today.cofc.edu/2021/06/15/cofc-faculty-students-discover-slave-badge-on-campus/.
Powers, Bernard Edward. Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822-1885. Fayetteville, AK: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.
Slave Tags at other Museums and Cultural Heritage Institutions (Links to Digital Surrogates)
Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture
National Museum of African American History and Culture
Selections from the Eleanor Heldrich Movable Books Collection
Special Collections Reading Room
May 2019 – present
Over the course of the last decade, Eleanor Heldrich has donated hundreds of movable, also known as “pop-up”, books to the College of Charleston Special Collections. In addition to being an avid collector, Heldrich published movable books, primarily about flower arranging, for twenty years under the banner of Prospect Hill Press.
This exhibit features books designed by Lothar Meggendorfer, the “pioneer of paper engineering”, as well as “movers and shakers of movables” such as Ernest Nister, Ib Penick, and Geraldine Clyne. In addition, winners of the biannual Meggendorfer Prize awarded by the Movable Book Society including Robert Sabuda, Marion Bataille, and Matthew Reinhart are on display.
John Rivers Communication Museum
September 2018 – present
A splendid showcase of media objects from the collections of the John Rivers Communication Museum.
Featuring College of Charleston faculty publications, this rotating display showcases a small selection of the scholarly work of the College of Charleston faculty members. Copies of most of these books are in the stacks and available to be checked out to members of the campus community (or purchase in the CofC bookstore).