Smithsonian Exhibit “Voices and Votes” Opens in Aiken

The traveling Smithsonian exhibit Voices and Votes: Democracy in America will open at the Aiken County Historical Museum in partnership with Second Baptist Church of Aiken on Saturday, July 23, 2022. The exhibition examines the nearly 250-year-old American experiment of a government “of, by and for the people,” and how each generation since continues to question how to form “a more perfect union.” The exhibit will be in Aiken until Saturday, September 3, and a variety of collateral programs and events will take place while the exhibit is on display. The tour of Voices and Votes is made possible in South Carolina by SC Humanities.

The Aiken County Historical Museum and Second Baptist Church of Aiken were chosen by SC Humanities through a competitive application process to host Voices and Votes as part of the Museum on Main Street program—a national/state/local partnership to bring exhibitions and programs to rural cultural organizations. The exhibition will tour six communities in South Carolina from April 2022 through January 2023; an itinerary of all six stops on the tour and more program details can be found at https://schumanities.org/voices-and-votes/.

Voices and Votes explores the action, reaction, vision and revision that democracy demands as Americans continue to question how to shape the country. From the revolution and suffrage, to civil rights and casting ballots, everyone in every community is part of this ever-evolving story—the story of democracy in America. Exhibition sections explore the origins of American democracy, the struggles to obtain and keep the vote, the machinery of democracy, the right to petition and protest beyond the ballot and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. Voices and Votes features historical and contemporary photos; educational and archival video; engaging multimedia interactives with short games; and historical objects like campaign souvenirs, voter memorabilia, and protest material.

The Voices and Votes exhibit is installed at the Aiken County Historical Museum at 433 Newberry St SW, Aiken, SC 29801. The museum is open Tuesdays – Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and on Sundays from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Mondays.

A variety of special events are planned while the exhibit is on display:

June 23 – July 28, 2022
Art Exhibition: Voices Made Visual
Aiken Center for the Arts, 122 Laurens Street SW, Aiken, SC
Voices Made Visual is a juried art exhibition and competition celebrating the majesty and plurality of voices, past and present, that have shaped, and continue to shape, our national dialogue. Ever since the American revolutionaries won independence from England, the voices of average citizens have helped to blaze the trail for this great nation.

July 23, 2022 | 5:00 – 7:00 p.m.
South Carolina History Symposium: Voices and Votes: The History of Democracy in South Carolina
Second Baptist Church, 1151 York Street NE, Aiken, SC
Dr. Walter Edgar, USC and
Dr. Bobby Donaldson, USC, CCRH&R
Moderator: Dr. Tom Mack, USCA

The signature event will be a lively symposium on the dramatic events and jagged history of voting rights in South Carolina and Aiken County. Selected questions for the speakers will be taken from the audience. The discussion will involve three South Carolina luminaries: Dr. Walter Edgar and Dr. Bobby Donaldson of Columbia, along with Aiken’s own Dr. Tom Mack serving as moderator. Learn more about the speakers: https://aikenvoicesandvotes.com/event-directory/

July 29, 2022 | 6:00 p.m.
Book Talk: Unexampled Courage
Center for African American History, Art and Culture, 120 York St NE, Aiken, SC
Judge Richard Gergel, Author
Moderator: Chris Verenes, President Security Federal Bank
Richard Gergel will give a talk on his book Unexampled Courage, which details the impact of the blinding of Sergeant Woodard on the racial awakening of President Truman and Judge Waring and traces their influential roles in changing the course of America’s civil rights history. Richard Gergel is a United States district judge who presides in the same courthouse in Charleston, South Carolina, where Judge Waring once served. A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Judge Gergel earned undergraduate and law degrees from Duke University.

August 18, 2022 | 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Civil Rights Symposium: Voting Matters: Supression and Disenfranchisement
USCA Etherredge Center, 240 Scholar Loop, Aiken, SC
Leon Russell, National Board Chairman of NAACP
Eugene White, President, Aiken County Branch of NAACP
Lynn Shuler Teague, Vice President for Issues and Action, LWV-SC
Moderator: Stephanie Franklin, USCA Inclusion Advisory Council
As part of Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, this panel of advocates and thought leaders will discuss the history of, and the present enforcement of, voter suppression and disenfranchisement tactics and policies in South Carolina and throughout the Southern United States. Panelists will discuss voting rights from their respective roles, guided by our moderator.

August 23, 2022 | 7:00 p.m.
Suffrage Symposium: The Big Debate
USCA Etherredge Center, 240 Scholar Loop, Aiken, SC
Dr. Melissa DeVelvis, Augusta University
Prof. Meeghan Kane,Benedict College
Dr. Sarah King, USCA
Dr. Walter Curry, Renaissance Publications
Moderator: Dr. Melencia Johnson, USCA
With the national premiere of an original playlet, The Big Debate, this event brings to life the fraught friendship and the competition for recognition between voting rights stalwarts Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony. The 15th Amendment, passed in 1869, states the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged … on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” The 19th Amendment, passed in 1919, states the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged … on account of sex.” Within that 50-year span was a contentious rift in the suffrage movement over race and gender that has not healed in much of the U.S. to this day. Explore this division and its repercussions through live theater followed by a panel discussion among local historians.

August 26, 2022 | 6:00 p.m.
Book Talk: One Woman, One Vote
Center for African American history, Art and Culture, 120 York Street NE, Aiken, SC
Marjorie Spruill, Author
Moderator: Dr. Elizabeth Georgian, USCA

Marjorie Spruill will give a talk on One Woman, One Vote. As editor, Spruill compiled this anthology of leading historians’ insightful research and contemporary writings on the U.S. suffrage movement, involving generations of women’s rights advocates. Over 200 historic photos illustrate the diversity of women who fought for the right to vote. Spruill is Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of South Carolina. She lectures widely on women’s history in the U.S. and abroad, and is a frequent consultant to museums, filmmakers, and the news media.

The Aiken team will also co-host the special writing and reflection workshop “The Communal Pen” while the exhibit is on display. The dates of this free writing workshop is Saturday, August 13th 10:00AM – 2:00PM. Register here. This writing workshop draws inspiration from Voices and Votes. The exhibit themes and images are a springboard for igniting our own stories, giving voice to our shared and unique experiences. The Communal Pen is developed through the SC Arts Commission’s place-based initiative, the Art of Community: Rural SC. The writing workshops are coordinated through the Community Arts Development and Folklife programs, with generous support from SC Humanities.

Designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations, Voices and Votes will serve as a community meeting place for conversations about democracy, the freedoms and responsibilities of citizens, participating in government, and more.

The exhibition is part of Museum on Main Street, a unique collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), state humanities councils across the nation, and local host institutions. To learn more about Voices and Votes and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit museumonmainstreet.org.  Support for MoMS has been provided by the U.S. Congress.

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c)3 organization is governed by a volunteer 21-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually.

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For exhibition description and tour schedules, visit sites.si.edu.