Where we walked

Taking a ride through history with Beverly Jenkins and her readers is a memorable experience. Many of Beverly’s romance novels are set in the 19th century, and she often takes trips with her fans to the places where her books are set. Her readers know their history (many of Beverly’s books include bibliographies), and they enjoy walking together where Beverly’s characters might have walked. They grapple with the history and celebrate it, sample the local cuisine, and catch up with one another. They communicate all year round, but usually see each other just once a year.

On this trip, they spent a day at the first school created for recently emancipated slaves on Saint Helena Island in South Carolina (the Penn School, which was founded during the Civil War in 1862, and named for the Quaker activist, William Penn). The school modeled itself on Booker T. Washington’s model of industrial training in the early 1900s, and became a meeting place for labor and civil rights organizers in the 1950s and 1960s. While in South Carolina, Beverly and her fans also explored Boone Hall Plantation, walked the streets of Charleston, and visited the Old Slave Mart Museum.

Beverly Jenkins and her fans take trips together, and last year their destination was South Carolina.

Beverly Jenkins: How did I choose Charleston? I just, I’ve got some friends here. I’ve never done a real history trip here, and I know that the history is fabulous here. And I’ve always wanted to see the slave market.

Slave Market Tour Guide: Initially this building was a throughway. The back was a barracoon which was a holding area for the enslaved people. Locally it was called the “nigger jail.”

Reader: But still.

When you see it.

When you stand and you know somebody stood here.

Right.

Families separated here.

And you know somebody lost their child.

This is my first time on one of these trips, and it’s just been phenomenal. I enjoyed every bit of it. Now I understand all the history that she puts into her books. How it’s so accurate and everything, because she’s been there, and she’s seen everything. And I’ve just had a ball.

What did we do first? [Group chatter and laughter.]

We spent two hours on the ride.

The Penn Center.

Penn Center, founded 1862 as a school for emancipated slaves

I had never heard of it.

I hadn’t either.

I was very educated today on it. I had never heard of it.

There were some things that we learned today that we hadn’t seen before.

When you walk through the museum, and saw the different schools, classes, I’m like, “Geez.” I would have loved to have gotten all this in school.

Penn Center Tour Guide: When I went to school here, this building was the workshop. We did carpenter work, shoemaking, baskets. In other words, Penn had some kind of farm and everything. If you didn’t graduate, you knew how to— when you get 12 years, 13 years old, you could know how to survive.

The most scenic birthday party I’ve been to yet. Beverly Jenkins: Yeah, we’re having a ball.
Civil rights organizers met at Penn Center in the ‘60s.

Where Dr. King and his staff stayed, and this property was owned by ex-slaves. [indecipherable] And this, it was donated to Penn. To me, this is one of the most important buildings on campus.

Wow.

When I went through that, I thought about all the things that my grandmother had taught me, because she taught me how to sew, the canning.

I never learned from her how to do that. Out of all of the things she taught me, that was one of the things—Yeah, because she used to make her own hot sauce, preserves, everything.

And we have come so far, as a race in the 21st century, but we’ve lost so much.

This tour, this is. . . It really came to life, because you look at slavery, the black experience, and it’s so painful that, I’ve always just kind of pushed it aside. It’s like I don’t want to deal with it. I can’t. I can’t look. I can’t talk about it. I get so angry. I get so upset. But this time around, it was like, for the very first time, there was a purpose there. And it was like, this was okay, because it made our race stronger, and I can be proud of that, and I just had so many feelings. I just had so many feelings about this that I’m not going away angry or bitter, but more inquisitive.

And it’s so great to be around just all women in the community. I’ve missed that for a long time. It’s been fantastic.

Aw.

Don’t cry. Don’t cry.

I like going places where we walked which is why this trip we’re doing this way. I tell people I like to put my stories where African American people actually walked. I put my stories on top of that.

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