FAU South Carolina Chapter

South Carolina (27.9% African American)

South Carolina’s African American population is 1,290,684, accounting for 27.9 percent of the state’s population and 3.3 percent of the US African American population.


Since 1708, the majority of the population of the South Carolina colony were slaves, as importation of laborers from Africa had increased in recent decades with labor demand from the expansion of cotton and rice cultivation as commodity export crops. Historian Ira Berlin has called this the Plantation Generation, noting that South Carolina had become a “slave society,” with slavery central to its economy. As planters had imported many slaves to satisfy the increased demand for labor, most slaves were native Africans.[3] Many in South Carolina were from the Kingdom of Kongo, which had converted to Catholicism in the 15th century. Numerous slaves had first been held in the British West Indies, where they were considered to become ‘seasoned’ by working there under slavery, before being sold to South Carolina.

With the increase in slaves, colonists tried to regulate their relations, but there was always negotiation in this process. Slaves resisted by running away, work slowdowns, and revolts. At the time, Georgia was still an all-white colony, without slavery. South Carolina worked with Georgia to strengthen patrols on land and in coastal areas to prevent fugitives from reaching Spanish Florida.

Spanish Florida offered freedom to slaves escaped from British colonies; the Spanish had issued a proclamation and had agents spread the word in the British colonies about giving freedom and land to slaves who reached Florida. Tensions between England and Spain over territory in southern North America made slaves hopeful of reaching Spanish territory, particularly the free black community of Fort Mose, founded in 1738 outside St. Augustine. Stono was 150 miles (240 km) from the Florida line.

The state is known for the Stono Rebellion (sometimes called Cato’s Conspiracy or Cato’s Rebellion) of September 9th, 1739, which was the largest slave uprising in the colonies before the American Revolution. That day, 20 black slaves met secretly near the Stono River to plan an escape. Later, they went into the local Hutcheson’s store, where they killed two storekeepers and stole the guns and powder they then used to battle against their slave owners, according to America’s Library.

It was the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies, with 42-47 whites and 44 blacks killed.  Jemmy and his group recruited nearly 60 other slaves and killed some whites before being intercepted and defeated by South Carolina militia near the Edisto River. A group of slaves escaped and traveled another 30 miles (50 km) before battling a week later with the militia.

Jemmy, the leader of the revolt, was a literate slave described in an eyewitness account as “Angolan“.  In some reports, however, he is referred to as “Cato”, and likely was held by the Cato, or Cater, family who lived near the Ashley River and north of the Stono River. He led 20 other enslaved Kongolese, who may have been former soldiers, in an armed march south from the Stono River (for which the rebellion is named). Raising a flag, the slaves proceeded south toward Spanish Florida, a well-known refuge for escapees. On the way, they gathered more recruits, sometimes reluctant ones, for a total of 81. They burned six plantations and killed 23–28 whites along the way.

On Monday, 11 August 1740, Jemmy gathered 22 enslaved Africans near the Stono River, 20 miles (30 km) southwest of Charleston. This date was the Catholic celebration of the Virgin Mary‘s nativity. Taking action on this date connected their Catholic past with present purpose, as did the religious symbols they used.[7] The Africans marched down the roadway with a banner that read “Liberty!”, and chanted the same word in unison. They attacked Hutchenson’s store at the Stono River Bridge, killing two storekeepers and seizing weapons and ammunition.

A malaria epidemic had recently killed many whites in Charleston, weakening the power of slaveholders. Lastly, historians have suggested the slaves organized their revolt to take place on Sunday, when planters would be occupied in church and might be unarmed. The Security Act of 1739 (which required all white males to carry arms even to church on Sundays) had been passed in August of that year in response to earlier runaways and minor rebellions, but it had not fully taken effect. Local officials were authorized to mount penalties against white men who didn’t carry arms after 29 September

Ref.  George Cato, interviewed by Stiles M. Scruggs, ” ‘As It Come Down to Me:’ Black Memories of Stono in the 1930s”, in Mark M. Smith, Stono: Documenting and Interpreting a Southern Slave Revolt, Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005. ISBN 1-57003-605-5, pp. 55-d

In the modern day, Tim Scott in 2014 became the first African American Republican Senator from South Carolina since the post-Reconstruction period of the late 19th Century. Among African Americans, unemployment is nearly 3 times more than rates among whites according to EPI. Nationally, high school graduation rates for African Americans were 69 percent and the lowest among racial groups, but in South Carolina these stood at 71 percent, second last after Hispanics, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2011-2012 report. Famous black people born in South Carolina include tennis player Althea Gibson, musicians James Brown and Chubby Checker, comedian Chris Rock, activist Jesse Jackson, and many others.