William McCann speaks about his experience growing up as part of an Irish American and Italian American family in New York. While his great-great grandparents came to the United States from Longford and Wicklow in the 1850?s and took up blue-collar jobs, the family has little knowledge of family stories or memories from that time, as William?s paternal grandfather passed away when his father was in his teens. Because he had more contact with older relatives from his maternal, Italian, side during childhood, the majority of William?s experience of Irishness has been through relationships with his friends in New York, some who have parents that are native Irish. He feels that Irish identity is less prominent in the South, that there is less of a culture built around Irishness.
Vivian Cleary, 64, was born in Dublin, Ireland. He shares stories about life in the Northside of Dublin. Vivian lived in Dublin until he was three years old when his parents moved to Birmingham, England, where he lived until the age of 17. Vivian shares experiences of family holidays in Ireland. Vivian came to Charleston twenty years ago and discusses how different life is in America. He discusses political issues with America during this time along with the process for applying for permanent residency. Vivian is also able to shed light on historical events in Ireland, such as experiences with the IRA, and separation of Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Kristen Lowe (pronouns: She/Her/Hers) was born in Florence, South Carolina, and currently resides in Charleston with her partner, and works professionally as a hand therapist in a sports medicine practice. She discusses growing up in the small-town atmosphere of Florence, and the impacts of her largely conservative and Southern Baptist religious upbringing. She recalls happy childhood memories with her parents and two younger brothers, including spending summers on the lake. Attending a private Baptist high school, she was unaware of her identity and saw no LGBTQ role models anywhere, having her first experience at age twenty. A graduate of the College of Charleston and later the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), she hid her sexual identity at the former institution, afraid of being labelled if she attended Gay Straight Alliance meetings, but at MUSC, she eventually served as Vice President of the Alliance for Equality. Lowe describes the difficulty of arriving at self-acceptance, feeling solitary, and at first being fearful of going to church and educational figures, or even close friends for advice. Becoming more and more open, she searched for a place within the LGBTQ community, finding fulfillment and social acceptance in becoming a board member of Alliance for Full Acceptance (AFFA). She details the advocacy work AFFA does, achieving, just at the time of the interview, a victory in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina in its passing a non-discrimination ordinance. Being out has given her a freedom to do as she wants, dress as she wants and she also has a variety of reproductive options available to her and her partner, as well. Any harassments received for being perceived as a lesbian were minor, she notes. In answer to queries about the issues facing the LGBTQ community today, she reflects on the number of different identities within it, and although there is much more visibility currently, she reiterates the difficulty of coming out, recalling how she at first had to do it via letters to her parents. If it takes an individual years to come to terms with her identity, she reasons, family members should be given time to adapt as well. She also explains how naturally children will take to the idea of LGBTQ relations among adults since children come into the world unprejudiced and will remain so if their society will allow it.
This panel discussion was held in October 2004 in observance of the one hundredth anniversary of Temple Beth Elohim in Georgetown, South Carolina. Relying on local records, L. C. Sloan reviews the history of eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century Jews of Georgetown, in particular, Marcus Moses (1830-1884) and his children. Robin Heiden Shuler describes growing up in the 1960s and ’70s as a member of a small, close-knit Jewish community in predominantly Christian Florence, South Carolina, and how she drifted away from Judaism as a young woman in Charleston, but returned to it as a mother. Robert Schimek provides his perspective as a transplant from the Northeast. He proposes that the line between Conservative and Reform Judaism is becoming increasingly blurred and that Beth Elohim’s goal is to “make as many as we can . . . feel comfortable under our umbrella.” Panelists and audience members also briefly discuss the question of antisemitism in Florence and touch on the history of Temple Beth Or in Kingstree, South Carolina. For Mr. Sloan’s research materials, see L. C. Sloan collection, Mss 1036, Special Collections, Addlestone Library, College of Charleston.
Michaela Henderson talks about her experience growing up in an Irish American family in Connecticut. Her great-grandmother came over from Valentia Island in the late 1800?s/early 1900?s and the family settled in the New Haven area. Her family relocated to Charleston her freshman year of high school and has lived in the area since then. While her family was very involved in an Irish organization in Connecticut, she feels that there is less of a centralized Irish American presence in Charleston, and that claiming a Southern identity seems more important here than claiming a specific ethnic background, such as Irish. However, she is hopeful that the situation seems to be changing, with more emphasis on ways to celebrate Irish heritage here in Charleston.
Cheryl Daniels was born in Jersey City, New Jersey. Both of Cheryl?s parents were also born in Jersey City and their parents immigrated from Galway and Cork. Cheryl?s grandparents initially immigrated to America for better job opportunities. She discusses their journey to Americanize themselves upon entering the country by changing their names. She discusses the influence of Catholicism on her family and her public school education experience in America. Cheryl has lived in New Jersey, Colorado, and South Carolina.
Sean Doherty discusses his experience growing up as part of an Irish-American family in New York City. His parents emigrated from County Donegal in the 1920s. He discusses growing up in a neighborhood of various first-generation immigrants from different backgrounds. He was an officer in the United States Marine Corps, until he became a salesman for Sylvan Pyrometric Systems, eventually retiring and coming to Charleston.
Barbara Dugan discusses her upbringing as part of an Irish-American family in New York City. Her grandparents emigrated from County Mayo and County Kerry around 1900. Her grandmother, Catherine, took care of janitorial duties in her apartment building while her grandfather, Patrick, became employed in steel works and helped to build several New York City area bridges. As a child, she had difficulty getting her grandmother to speak in detail about Ireland, which she suspects is because of the hardships the family endured before their move to the United States. Barbara grew up going to all-girls Catholic schools and was raised Catholic. She speaks glowingly of her travels in Ireland and discusses the various ways in which she passes a sense of Irish-American identity onto her children and grandchildren. Barbara recently relocated to Charleston to be close to her married son and grandchildren, who live in Mt. Pleasant.
Michael Duffy (b. 1943) discusses his upbringing as part of an Irish-American family in Charleston. His paternal grandfather, William J. Duffy, emigrated from County Donegal, and the family settled in the coal region of Pennsylvania. His mother’s side of the family came over from Clonmel, County Tipperary, through New Orleans and settled in Charleston. Michael travelled to Annagry, in a Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) region on the West coast of Ireland, on a search for more information about the Duffys, and stumbled upon a pub where he was able to get more information about the Duffys from that region. He has pieced together much of his family’s background since but is still searching for more information. He has travelled numerous times to Ireland and has built numerous friendships through his travels. In his discussion of growing up as an Irish-Catholic in Charleston, he recalls some of the anti-Catholic sentiments he encountered in childhood, specifically the vivid memories of his childhood friend’s mothers asking him peculiar questions about the Pope. He acknowledges that the Catholic church, and the various duties and services associated with it, played a central role in his upbringing. He speaks about the current Irish community in Charleston, and how the Hibernian Society is taking steps to promote Irish culture in the city, whether by bringing Irish music in, or through commemorative or educational events such as the building of the Irish Memorial on Charlotte Street. Michael is immensely proud of his Irish-American background, and of the contributions the Irish-American immigrants have made in the States.
Cator Sparks (pronouns: he/him), white board president of LGBTQ youth organization We Are Family, discusses his life as a gay man and his volunteer and professional work. He describes growing up in a liberal family in Atlanta, Georgia, and his difficulties and successes in high school. Sparks attended the College of Charleston in the early 1990s and speaks of coming out in Charleston into an exciting and accepting environment, then detailing his experiences in the rave scene. Along with rave venues, he describes gay bars including Treehouse, A.C.'s, and The Arcade. He discusses his volunteer work with neighborhood associations in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood in Charleston and Harlem in New York City. Sparks performed in drag in Atlanta as Spectra Gramm, one of his performances during the Olympics being televised in France, where he soon went to study abroad. Back in Atlanta, he enrolled in American College, finishing his degree in fashion marketing in London. It was there he discovered dandyism, and he speaks of his conversion to it from rave fashion, defining what dandyism means to him, the effect it had on his life, and how it can educate others. He emphasizes how he values working with LGBTQ youth and his experiences volunteering with the Harvey Milk High School in New York City and with We Are Family in Charleston. Sparks describes the impact the 2016 Presidential election had on him, prompting his social action and recaps his professional life, including a description of working in Jeffrey, a high-end New York shoe store started by Jeffrey Kalinksy of Charleston, his freelance writing and his future plans of becoming a life coach. Photograph credited to Carolina Knopf.