Prejudicial to the Public Health: Class, Race, and the History of Land Reclamation, Drainage, and Topographic Alteration in Charleston, South Carolina, 1836-1940
Poole, William Scott
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Over the span of a century, elite white Charlestonians wielded disproportionate control over working class whites and, to an even greater degree, African Americans, as they shaped the topography in a city whose society was rigidly hierarchical along both class and racial lines. The thesis examines a period from 1836 to the start of World War II to show the evolution of municipal government and the city's handling of public health issues surrounding drainage and low lying areas, as well as the changing motivations for filling. Special attention is paid to how the reclamation projects were funded, public versus private interest, public health, and political and class issues interwoven with land reclamation and drainage. The study utilizes primary documents such as City Council Minutes, City Yearbooks, period newspapers, and numerous other municipal publications. Class and economic issues played an important role in the way that the city was shaped and altered, and these societal factors are evident in how the municipal government addressed landfill and drainage in different parts of the city. The elite class' involvement in city politics allowed them to control the evolving shape of Charleston, and they further influenced the topography in their capacity as private landowners, developers, and economic leaders. Charleston's population and physical area grew slower than contemporary cities because of the values and actions of the elite class. Race also played a role in the elite government's response to improvement needs and topographic issues. While working class residents of both races lived in low lying areas prone to disease and flooding, receiving less improvement funding from the municipal government than residents in upper class residential sections, African American housing areas were at the lowest end of the spectrum. In essence, the elite government prioritized reclamation projects and improvements in wealthy sections to the detriment of the working class, with African Americans on the lowest rung in a city divided by class and further by race. The thesis is the first work to study topographic alteration in Charleston in depth, within the context of class and race in the city's history.
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