The valued decorative arts, architecture, and handcrafts of the early American South depended on African American hands, a truth highlighted by folklorist John Michael Vlach in the seminal exhibit, “The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts” at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1978. Yet, some forty years later, too few historians, museum curators, and certainly visitors to the public history institutions of the United States are presented with that truth. The Black Craftspeople Digital Archive (BCDA) seeks to showcase black craftsmanship while bringing to light the stories of black craftspeople.
Founded in 2019, the BCDA brings together scholars, students, museums and archives professionals and the public to collaborate and spread the story of black craftspeople. The BCDA originally began as a project founded by Dr. Tiffany Momon and inspired by her research into John “Quash” Williams, an enslaved and later free black master carpenter responsible for the carpentry and joinery work on the c. 1750 Charles Pinckney Mansion in Charleston, South Carolina. Momon’s research into Williams led to the development of a map tracing Williams’s life around Charleston and soon, that map incorporated places associated with the enslaved black craftsmen who aided Williams in the construction of the Pinckney Mansion. By Fall 2019, the project expanded to include more black craftspeople in Charleston involved in a variety of trades. The archive continues to grow daily.