Wrong Leila Potts-Campbell?

Last Updated 2/7/2010

General Information

Employment History

Associate Director  - Avery Research Center

Field Archivist  - Avery Research Center

Associate Director, Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture  - College of Charleston

Associate Director of the Avery Research Center for African-American History and Culture  - College of Charleston


Historian  - Avery Research Center

Web References  


Though burial societies once existed in other cities (New Orleans and Baltimore, for example), Charleston likely is the only place where the old organizations remain active, said Leila Potts-Campbell, field archivist at the Avery Center.
Charleston's established whites instead encouraged free blacks to form benevolent societies so they might collect dues and purchase land for cemeteries, according to Potts-Campbell. In their heyday, the societies were as concerned with the living as with the dead, Potts-Campbell said. Since the white society offered free slaves little in the way of social services, black communities had to be self-sufficient. The burial societies were one way to build a safety net, Potts-Campbell said. They cultivated a sense of community; paid for the education of orphaned children; arranged an apprenticeship for teenage boys so they might learn a trade, find work and support a family; provided financial support to the sick and dying; offered widows an annuity or modest monthly stipend to help with living expenses; purchased property; and arranged for burials. Since the societies were urban and their membership limited, they were considered elitist by some, Potts-Campbell said. In fact, they were merely pragmatic, ensuring that city-dwelling free people of color had access to essential resources, and that the size of the group was manageable, she said. After the quashed Denmark Vesey-led slave rebellion, the state instituted a law restricting the number of blacks that could meet at one time to seven. The Brown Fellowship Society petitioned the city to allow larger gatherings since politics was not discussed, Potts-Campbell said.

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Gibbes Museum : About

Oct. 24 with Leila Potts Campbell, Avery Research Center

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"Most burial societies in Charleston limited their membership to 50 men of 'respectable character,' " said Leila Potts-Campbell, associate director of the Avery Research Center, who is studying such societies.

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