This is the initial of two sections about Prof. Damon L. Fordham, Charleston native and Black American who delivers insights into the life and contributions of African Us residents in the Palmetto Condition. Element I focuses on the existence of the storyteller himself, whilst Part II focuses on his tales.
A born storyteller. Historian. Educator. Writer.
Prof. Damon L. Fordham is a gentleman who reveals the real truth of the African American knowledge by the potent medium of tales. Some of people tales are horrifying, profoundly unfortunate and attain down into the darkness of the human soul. At periods, there is humor and bravery and delight — tales that offer a glimpse of what could be and need to be.
In addition to teaching U.S. and African American record at Charleston Southern University and The Citadel, alongside with researching and composing textbooks, Fordham spends his “free” time supplying a two-hour strolling tour identified as “Lost Stories of Black Charleston” as a result of Tour Charleston, which is headquartered at Buxton Textbooks on King Road.
The tour slowly but surely winds throughout decrease Charleston, through regular community streets with incredible pasts. Fordham is a passionate historian with a deep mastery of details and a powerful comprehending of the context of gatherings. In some cases he will think a distinct voice, accent or dialect for emphasis. Though going for walks on every block, he reveals the life of an unique struggle, instead than making use of a wide brush to paint his visual images.
At one particular position in his tour he stops and describes how, in 1775, the sugar refinery on Journal Avenue was turned into a slave dungeon, recognised as the Sugar House. He stated slave masters would rent house in the home for their slaves to be punished. James Matthews, a runaway slave, was captured and sent to the Sugar Home and was place in a room with broken glass fastened to the partitions to reduce him from trying to escape. Slaves at the Sugar Residence ended up beaten with a whip. Fordham solemnly repeats the words of Matthews. “While I’m a religious guy, I have no panic of hell due to the fact I have now been to the Sugar Household.”
He factors to the bricks laid on the floor outside the Previous Charleston Jail. He mentioned lots of of the bricks were being made by slave labor at the Brickyard Plantation at Boone Hall in Mount Enjoyable. He details to the imprint on the bricks and asks, “What do you see?” The imprints are from the hands of young children. He adds, “Among the persons who have been there at the time ended up my next wonderful-grandparents, Jackson and Selena Maxwell, offered to Boone Hall Plantation someday in the 1850s.”
Fordham mentioned his storytelling talents have been derived from childhood. “You see, I grew up in people of more mature storytellers and folks who are extremely animated. In the times prior to tv, these were being the techniques in which facts was transmitted and as a boy or girl I soaked it all up like a sponge. And so now I’m applying this to make a dwelling.”
His enjoy of studying was a major influence. “At the Outdated Village Library, there was a reserve known as ‘Mules and Men’ by Zora Neale Hurston. In essence she sat on this porch down in her hometown of Eatonville, Florida, with the Black elders and wrote down their stories,” he explained. “And I noticed the similarities in that and what the elders ended up telling me when they ended up passing the time. Other stories followed, this sort of as “A Treasury of American Folklore” with its regular tales and African American folklore like the Brer Rabbit stories. “So all this arrived with each other and I began entertaining my mates with these tales. And the rest is heritage,” he claimed.
His childhood began with a likely for hardship, as he was put up for adoption in infancy by his mom, Anne Montgomery. “Because, you know, in these days to be an unwed mom, primarily from a married gentleman, was this sort of a social shame.” He was lifted by Pearl and Abraham Fordham of Mount Pleasurable. Fordham called it “a superior alternate, in that they ended up excellent mothers and fathers.” He said his father was a excellent storyteller. “I get a large amount of what I do now from him.”
He wasn’t an ordinary child, Fordham mentioned. “When I was a youngster, I just located record intriguing, and in those people times, in the ‘70s, it was type of like now, in that Black was ‘in,’ so you had all these Black historical past textbooks.” He examine voraciously and virtually lived in the library. Black record was not identified in the classroom due to the fact it “was deemed controversial in individuals times.” Even so, Fordham mentioned no one could end him from studying about things on his individual. “Which is what I did.”
Fordham explained his young self as not not like the young poet laureate Amanda Gorman, who read through her perform at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. “She describes herself as a odd child since she beloved to examine. And that was the situation with me. People today believed it was so abnormal when I was a youngster that you experienced a Black male little one who was very un-athletic and cared absolutely nothing about it and was truly into looking through. We have been socialized into wondering we were being superior at all factors actual physical and nothing mental. And for a boy, it was just regarded bizarre that I cherished to examine and cherished publications and loved to discuss in an articulate trend. I was just deemed so uncommon. I was incredibly uncomfortable way too, so I was ostracized a ton, but luckily there have been just ample adults who observed by means of all of that and have been there to give me some steerage to help get where I am today.”
There had been two folks in Fordham’s early everyday living who manufactured an primarily strong affect on him. A person, Bertie Sanders, was from when he first commenced attending an built-in faculty in 1971. “Miss Bertie Sanders took me beneath her wing and she observed that I favored to publish my very own stories and to get up and recite and issues like that. And she encouraged that.”
But it was more than just academic encouragement that he remembers. When he bought eyeglasses, the other little ones in his course bullied and teased him, calling him “a 4-eyed monkey.” He mentioned his teacher referred to as him up to her and exclaimed, “‘Don’t you appear so handsome with your new eyeglasses.’ I under no circumstances forgot her for that.”
A different early impact was a school dean and professor at the University of South Carolina, Willie Lloyd Harriford Jr. who taught African American heritage. He was USC’s 1st Black administrator and an essential civil-rights determine in state. “He got me out of majoring in organization administration, where by I was accomplishing extremely terribly. I would make straight A’s in heritage with no even placing a total ton of exertion into it simply because I was reading it for pleasurable. He requested me, ‘Have you figured this out but?’ and I believed, ‘This is what I must be carrying out with my everyday living.’”
A later on significant influence has been Henry Lewis Gates, an African American literary critic, professor, historian and documentary filmmaker. He is the director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Study at Harvard University.
“He’s undertaking the type of detail I want to do. He does documentaries on African American record and lectures around the place,” Fordham reported. “I acquired to fulfill him in Buford in 2019 when he did his ‘Reconstruction’ documentary. I was on a panel with him and we had dinner with each other and we email every single other a large amount to this working day. He offers me a large amount of fantastic guidance.”
Fordham mentioned he finally wishes to branch out and lecture and operate on documentaries. He has previously had some practical experience with South Carolina ETV and explained he has numerous suggestions for movie remedies. “I have a YouTube channel currently and which is what led me to converse at Berkeley and I just lately received an give to do Zooms for audiences in New York and various other destinations.”
Someday, Fordham hopes to vacation to Africa. “I would like to visit possibly Ghana or Sierra Leone to be as close as feasible to my roots. In Africa, history was stored orally by these individuals referred to as griots, who handed down tales that are up to a 1,000 decades outdated,” he explained. “I would enjoy to have the experience of meeting with some of the original griots of West Africa. I do I think we could definitely have a good conversation.”
So what does Fordham hope to carry out with his composing and storytelling? Educating people, for a person factor. “Which is why I want to do this type of detail on a broader phase.”
He stated he and persons like Gates use instruction as their weapon versus ongoing racism. “Others do it as a result of youthful activism — which is terrific, you have to have that form of matter to get people’s interest.”
He emphasised that activism and instruction need construction and objectives to reach success. “You require concise, constructive ambitions. A younger girl I noticed in a sector had a indicator indicating End Racism and I walked up to her and requested, “How?” And she couldn’t respond to that. You have to have a recreation prepare in advance of you get into this things. You have to have a concise purpose you want to meet up with. All this abstract things doesn’t go any place,” he claimed.
Fordham explained Black leadership of the civil legal rights movement still left at the rear of steering on how to move forward and that persons like himself who realize Black background have a accountability to get that facts out to the community.
He reported he was amazed by President Biden’s inaugural speech simply because of its grounding in actuality. “It was pretty very good. He hit all the correct notes to me on the have to have to have a culture in which you regard science and religion on an equal airplane and disparage this complete conspiracy idea society. He’s chatting about us doing better. He wasn’t speaking about fairy tale, pie in the sky, extremely-idealistic, unrealistic things that I just absolutely despise. He was talking about it in a quite sensible and doable way in changing the intellectual weather in The usa. I like that.”
“When people today chat about ‘Let’s Close poverty’ or ‘Let’s End racism,’ you know, there is a dark aspect to human mother nature that’s heading to stop all of that,” he warned. “You can’t even deliver a workable prepare to do that. What you have to do is deal with items constructively so you have specific ambitions that can be fulfilled in the facial area of the actuality that you are likely to have people today who have the dark side of human character no make any difference what — doable issues, for instance strengthening the high quality of training instruction and books in educational facilities or improving the quality of housing, economical housing, livable wages, factors that are constructive and useful outside of all that surface stuff.”
It is that enthusiasm to educate that imbues his writing and speaking with urgency. A have to have to make constructive transform and a motivation to share the truths that have been concealed driving the cloak of a shameful, racist American earlier. “Most people only know what is in entrance of them and what they hear — they do not consider time to go further than, which is why you have the polarization we have correct now.”
Perhaps his text, even though standing in front of the Aged Slave Mart Museum on the tour, sum up his feelings most effective. “The human stories illustrate why these factors stand as a monument to man’s inhumanity to man and why these kinds of factors must not be allowed to take place all over again.”