Joy and perseverance.
That’s what Jessica Scott-Felder, Wofford College assistant professor of studio art, says the Southside Cultural Monument will represent.
“It was important to focus on joy,” says Scott-Felder, who designed the monument while working closely with the Spartanburg African American Heritage & Culture Committee. “The monuments that signify pain carry pain when you’re experiencing them. I want people to experience joy, affluence and accomplishment when viewing this.”
The monument, which celebrates Spartanburg’s Black history, is scheduled to be unveiled on Juneteenth. It’s a $1 million project.
The college’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion presented the committee with a donation in February. Funds from the college’s Crafting Democratic Futures Grant from the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) have also supported the monument. Crafting Democratic Futures explores various forms of the meaning of reparations.
“How do we repair and reconcile aspects of history today,” Scott-Felder asks. “As an artist, I see a monument as a way to reconcile that. History is a way to interpret memory.”
The monument, which is under construction at the intersection of South Converse Street and Hudson Barksdale Boulevard, will serve as a gateway to the city’s Southside. The Southside was the home of the community’s Black business district before urban renewal. In 2020, Spartanburg City Council was among the first municipalities in the United States to extend an apology for “racial injustices and long-lasting inequities” stemming from policies, practices and investments that led to racial disparities.
Brenda Lee Pryce, a lifelong Southside resident and a former state representative, says the monument fills a void.
“There’s no centralized place to see and celebrate Black history,” Pryce says. “Urban renewal did away with that.”
The Southside Cultural Monument will consist of 35 panels that are each eight feet tall and four feet wide. The panels, which will be made from Lumicor, will be backlit so the monument will be visible at night. The monument will tell a story through themes involving faith, history, education and contributions Spartanburg’s Black residents have made to government, law, civics, business, industry, technology, medicine, sports, arts and entertainment.
The monument includes hand-drawn designs by Scott-Felder mixed with images collected from the community, newspapers and postcards. She’s also used artificial intelligence to add color to some black and white photos.
“It’s similar to quilt making,” Scott-Felder says. “I’m layering different images to create one continuous unit.”
The monument also is intended to continually evolve and to receive updates in the future.
“History is fluid and constantly unfolding before our eyes, and I see this being part of a larger conversation on how we share an unfolding history,” Scott-Felder says.
Over the past five years, Scott-Felder and members of the African American Heritage & Culture Committee visited a Black history wall in Columbus, Ohio, for inspiration and to learn about the process that community used when creating its monument. She applied for grants to raise funds for the project and the Atlanta, Georgia, native embraced Spartanburg’s history.
“It was important to immerse myself in the community,” Scott-Felder says. “I like this place. The only way to know if a place can cultivate your creativity is to get to know it.”
In three months, the monument will come to life.
“I’m excited about the unveiling,” Scott-Felder says. “The ground-breaking was affirming and like a big hug from the community.”
Carver Middle School students held an illustration of the monument during the ground-breaking ceremony in January, and Scott-Felder found that to be an emotionally moving sight.
“I thought that’s my intended audience,” Scott-Felder says. “For me it’s about the next generation and anyone curious about the memory of this place.”