A tall chimney, virtually alone in a field denuded of pine trees just days before, stood silhouetted against the winter sun.
Fifty trips down this stretch of South Carolina backcountry had never afforded me the above view, or even knowledge of the structure, or rather, what was left of it.
My first thought was that it was one of the increasingly rare but still extant examples of the havoc wrought by Sherman’s troops during their march through South Carolina in the early months of 1865.
Research shows that the structure, built by Thomas Wadlington in 1858, was indeed consumed by fire, but the conflagration took place some 124 years after Sherman’s bummers laid waste to much of the Palmetto State.
Known as the Keitt House, it was located eight miles east of Newberry, S.C., and was rented and used by the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity chapter of Newberry College from the early 1970s until Oct. 8, 1989, when it fell victim to flames.
Afterward, trees and undergrowth grew around what was left of the structure, mostly just the brick foundation and 30-foot-tall chimney, almost certainly built by slaves in the period just before the War Between the States.
Conventional wisdom holds that the subject of race in the South is an inflexible, immutable issue, separate and distinct as regards blacks and whites. Just as importantly, it always has been, according to popular notion.
A couple of cursory examples:
- Southern blacks today are overwhelmingly seen as being aligned with the Democratic Party, while a solid majority of Southern whites are Republicans; and
- If you visit a so-called “black church” or a “white church” you’ll rarely find many people of the opposite race on hand.
But as selectively segregated as some institutions may appear to be today, there’s no doubt that race relations have thawed considerably in the region over the past 40 years. Obviously, Jim Crow didn’t do a whole lot to bring people of different backgrounds together prior to that, nor was it designed to.
However, one occasionally stumbles across a glimpse of a past that shows that not everything was as neatly delineated between the two races as today’s stereotypical view of yesteryear might have us believe.
If one looks hard enough, there are examples that show the South, like any part of the United States, was and is an infinitely more complex region than today’s television pundits and political opportunists would have us believe.
Case in point: Earlier this month while rambling through the South Carolina Upstate, I came across New Enoree Baptist Church, located in rural Newberry County, about six miles northeast of the town of Newberry.