Join Our Team

We're seeking a Development Associate to play an important role in Upstate Forever's community relations and fundraising initiatives. Please apply by April 30.

Read More +

The Green Book of SC: A Guide to African American Cultural Sites

February 14th, 2024
By Elizabeth Swails

Thirty years ago, there were only 36 sites associated with Black History marked or registered in SC that's according to Executive Director Dawn Dawson-House of the WeGOJA Foundation, a South Carolina organization that has won the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 2021 Trustees Award for Organizational Excellence. Since then, the Foundation has helped add over 300 new historical markers and dozens of listings to the National Register, including many sites here in the Upstate. 

In our interview with Dawn learn about how WeGOJA came to be, how they are documenting and providing a travel guide for the over 400 African American cultural sites in The Green Book of South Carolina, and the exciting initiatives they're working on in our region and around the state.

If you are eager to explore these sites this February or any time of year, check out locations near you on The Green Book interactive map. Their location categories can help you narrow down what you're looking to discover whether it be cultural attractions, historic churches or schools, historic cemeteries, and more.

In the Upstate, many of the sites are set against a natural backdrop. We suggest taking a stroll around Soapstone Baptist Church in Pickens (under conservation easement with Upstate Forever), Old City Cemetery in Spartanburg, Fort Hill Slave Quarters in Clemson, and Holly Springs School in Belton. As you visit these sites remember the roles that historic preservation and conservation can play in social justice.                      

How did you get involved with WeGOJA?

WeGOJA was formerly the South Carolina African American Heritage Foundation, and it was the fundraising and boots-on-the-ground support arm of the African American Heritage Commission. We changed the name to WeGOJA Foundation in 2020 to draw a sharper line between the two entities, because even board members and commissioners were getting confused! Click here to see what WeGOJA means

The Commission began in 1993 because African American representation in the state’s permanent archival record was minimal. At the time, only 36 sites in SC that were associated with Black History had received historical markers or were listed on the National Register. The Commission could not apply for grants, but the Foundation, as a 501c3, could seek and manage funding, and together they helped acquire more than 300 markers and dozens of listings on the National Register. Both did so much to raise awareness about the possibility of identifying and documenting sites, that property owners, civic leaders, and communities became more engaged in preservation.

Today, WeGOJA has expanded its mission to perform similar work for other organizations.

Meanwhile, from 1989 to 2021, I was working at the SC Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism, most recently as Director of Corporate Communications after serving in tourism marketing and state parks PIO (Public Information Officer) positions. One of SCPRT’s priorities was to assist organizations that helped develop tourism potential across the state. The African American Heritage Commission was recognized as an entity that identified historic sites suited for visitation and, in 2015, SCPRT asked me to serve. The Commission leveraged my knowledge of tourism to create The Green Book of South Carolina in 2017. We received numerous awards and lots of media coverage because of this groundbreaking project.

Why is The Green Book such an important resource for SC?

The Green Book is the state’s only online travel guide to African American historic sites in South Carolina. It’s more than a listing. It provides GPS-based driving directions and information on nearby sites. Its user-friendly mobile platform makes it convenient to find under-discovered history wherever you are in South Carolina, and can be leveraged to draw in younger generations. In 2021, we worked with Hub City Press in Spartanburg to publish a hard-copy edition, and it's still available on Amazon here.

How has The Green Book improved access to cultural sites for African Americans in SC?

While we haven’t had the funds or capacity to invest in conversion studies, our anecdotal evidence suggests that The Green Book is so popular that more communities and property owners want to be a part of it and have taken steps to acquire historical markers for churches, the historic homes of notables, business districts and other historic sites. Some university and college professors have added the online guide to their list of resources for students, and teachers often use it as reference for webinars, workshops, and other professional development. Historic sites have not reported an increase in visitation because of The Green Book, but we believe there is an increase in awareness of the depth of African American history in South Carolina.

How do you see The Green Book evolving in the future?

We’d like it to provide even more options by offering curated tours for cultural group travel. Our wish list includes the development of a Civil Rights tour that we can offer to bus companies for group tours. Other tours include:

  • Historic churches, namely AME churches that began during Reconstruction as missionaries arrived to bring “salvation” to the formerly enslaved. Many of those churches, once brush arbors before walls were built, are still standing, or their congregations are still as strong as they were nearly 150 years ago.
  • Military tour – from the 1st SC Volunteers and the Civilian Conservation Camps that built parks and public works, to the Harlem Hellfighters who trained (for one week) in Spartanburg, the Tuskegee Airmen who trained near Walterboro, and Dr. Ronald McNair, military heritage in South Carolina is significant, and African Americans contributed to its valor and strength.
  • Education tour – including church schools, private academies, Rosenwalds, Equalizations, and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), education was a priority in the African American community, and historic investments in teaching/training the next generation are evident in almost every South Carolina community.
  • Briggs vs. Elliott – one of the federal District Court cases used in the arguments for Brown vs. Board began in Clarendon County, South Carolina, and the historic homes, churches, and schools at the center of this case are still standing in these rural communities.
  • Settlement Communities – Emancipation resulted in scores of settlement communities across the state. Some of them – like Lincolnville near Summerville – are still standing and have preserved their story and culture.

Of course, our wish list is dependent on funding.

Are there any other initiatives WeGOJA is involved in that you are especially proud of right now or that you'd like to see more public involvement in?

YES! We are working with Conservation Voters of South Carolina to examine extant Rosenwald School sites and structures to determine the feasibility of developing a trail. The goal is to produce a comprehensive report to the SC State Park Service in July 2025, in hopes of developing South Carolina’s first state park dedicated to African American and Jewish heritage.

We are also building an online Preservation Toolkit filled with resources and intuitive how-to guides to help property owners, preservationists, and community leaders find resources to meet their preservation goals. The process of preservation is so complex and expensive that many people drop their efforts before completing their projects. The toolkit will provide funding sources, assistance, collaboration between organizations, and other tools.

Do you have a favorite cultural site in the Upstate?

Personally, I’m super excited about the ECHO Theater in Laurens County, which is turning a former place of hate into a space of hope. I also like the story of the McClaren hospital, shared with me by the Urban League a few months ago, in Greenville, a bold move and incredible investment during the era of Segregation and inequality. But I’m most excited about the Black Heritage Trail that’s under development in Clemson and Seneca. I had no idea those places had significant African American history, and I’d love to keep following their progress and learning more about the African American footprint there.

Be sure to check out The Green Book of South Carolina as you plan your next adventure around the state to learn more about SC's extensive African American history. Also take a look at the WeGOJA Foundation website to see what other initiatives they're working on and upcoming events about South Carolina's African American heritage.

Elizabeth Swails is the Communications Coordinator and DEI Facilitator for Upstate Forever. You can contact her at

Error Message