Clemson Oral Histories


Clemson University: The African American Experience

View The African American Experience Collection

This oral history collection documents the experiences of the earliest African American students enrolled at Clemson University. Conducted in conjunction with the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Clemson’s integration, the interviews cover topics such as student life and activities in the 1960-70’s, race relations, sports and athletics, and engagement with the larger Clemson community as well as surrounding areas.

Briggs V. Elliott

View the Briggs V. Elliott Collection

In 1947, rural Black southerners in Clarendon County, South Carolina, filed a lawsuit seeking a school bus for their children. The court dismissed their case on a technicality, but they responded with a larger, more definitive suit that challenged White supremacy, Jim Crow law, and Black inequality. In Briggs v Elliott, a poor, rural, work-class Black community demanded an end to segregation. They sought better schools, better equipment, and to, ultimately, dismantle the entire “separate but equal” paradigm to achieve first-class citizenship for themselves and their children.
But it cost them everything. Led by Rev. Joseph A. De Laine, a local pastor, educator, and activist, and represented by attorney Thurgood Marshall, twenty petitioners waged everything – their land, their livelihood, and their lives – on a better education for their children. Some lost their land, others lost their livelihood, and a few gave their lives for the cause. Yet they have become little more than a footnote in historical memory.
In 1954, Briggs became one of five cases in the class action lawsuit now known as Brown v. Board of Education, et al, the landmark United States Supreme Court case that desegregated public schools across the country. While Brown is widely known, studied, and celebrated, Briggs has received little attention. This project serves as a corrective to a narrative that typically centers Brown and forgets the “et al.” It features the voices of South Carolinians such as Nathanial Briggs, whose parents, Harry and Eliza Briggs, served as the cases namesake; Joseph A. De Laine, Jr. And sister Dr. Ophelia De Laine Gona, whose father led the grassroots campaign; and many others.
In celebration of the 70th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, here are their stories.

Tell Your Story

Join us by telling your story and participating in an oral history. We partner with Clemson University faculty and students, individual researchers, community groups, and others to develop oral history projects.

Complete the Oral History Project Proposal Form to get started.

About Us

Who are We?

Upstate South Carolina boasts both an abundant and diverse history. These hills and mountains resonate with varying tales of industry, agriculture, education, and ingenuity, and the Oral History Program at Clemson University seeks to capture and make known the region’s richest resource: its people and their heritage. Our goal is to gather, preserve, and make accessible stories of historical and cultural significance and thereby diversify, complicate, and expand the historical record.

To date, Clemson’s Oral History program is home to hundreds of interviews. Located in our Special Collections Library in STI or available online, topics include South Carolina’s textile history, military life and history, Black life in the Upstate, and various others. Our goal is to grow. We will do so by equipping the community, providing rigorous training, and collaborating with local schools, special interest groups, and museums.

What is Oral History?

According to the Oral History Association, “Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Oral history is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies.”

Why Oral History?

  • New Perspectives: Too often history emphasizes the voices of the elite or powerful. Oral history affords us the opportunity to engage new voices and perspectives.
  • Correction/Expansion: In-depth oral histories can expand or correct our understanding or interpretations of certain events, people, and communities.
  • Evidence: An oral history can create a tangible record where none exists. In many cases, they become the impetus for new and future inquiry.

Contact Information

Le Datta Grimes, Ph.D.
Oral Historian