Reflections on Careers in the Humanities: A Panel Discussion with 2021 Governor’s Awards Winners

To celebrate the 30th Annual Governor’s Awards in the Humanities, South Carolina Humanities hosted a panel discussion with several of our 2021 Governor’s Awards recipients. Join Michael AllenJannie Harriot, and Simon Lewis as they discuss and reflect on their careers in the humanities with moderator John White, Dean of Libraries at the College of Charleston. The virtual program is now available on-demand on the SC Humanities YouTube channel.


Michael Allen has served as a National Park Ranger, an Education Specialist, and a Community Partnership Specialist for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. A native of Kingstree, South Carolina, Allen earned a degree in History Education from South Carolina State University and began his career with the National Park Service in the summer of 1980. His career has been defined by his community activism and his deep-seated interest in our nation’s spiritual growth as it relates to history and culture. He played a major role in the National Park Service’s Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study which examined the feasibility and suitability of establishing educational centers as well as determining ways to increase interpretation and preservation of this valuable culture. After five years of work, the final report was presented to Congress in 2005. Through the leadership of Congressman James E. Clyburn and the tireless support of Michael Allen, the U.S. Congress passed the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act in 2006 to establish the United States’ first and only African American National Heritage Area. In 2014, the National Parks Service appointed Allen as a lead team member on the NPS Special Resource Landmark Study exploring the history and legacy of the Reconstruction Era. As a result of this groundbreaking study, a new National Park Service site called the Reconstruction Era National Monument was established by Presidential Proclamation on January 12, 2017. After more than 37 years in public service, Michael Allen retired from the National Park Service in December 2017. He currently lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina and he is an Elder at Christ Temple Church of North Charleston.

Jannie Harriot is an educator, a community leader, and a titan of cultural preservation. A native of Hartsville, South Carolina, Harriot earned a Bachelor of Science Degree from Fayetteville State University. After nearly two decades of teaching in public schools and community colleges in the Carolinas, New York, and New Jersey, she returned to South Carolina in 1990 and served as executive director of the Allendale County First Steps to School Readiness. She soon became instrumental in the 1991 founding of the Butler Heritage Foundation, an organization formed by alumni of Harriot’s alma mater, Butler High School, with the mission of restoring the closed campus for public use as a community center. After they successfully petitioned the Darlington County Board of Education to deed Butler High School to the foundation for preservation, Harriot served as the founding chairperson. In 1993 she was appointed as a charter member of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission (SCAAHC) by Governor Carroll Campbell. During her twelve-year tenure as chair, the SCAAHC has published the annual “African American Historic Places in South Carolina” guide; a “Teacher’s Guide to African American Historic Places in South Carolina and its “Arts Integration Supplement”; a survey of African American schools in South Carolina entitled “How Did We Get to Now?”; an introductory resource guide for entrepreneurs entitled “The Business of Rural Heritage, Culture and Art”; and a project capturing the experiences of African Americans in South Carolina during the pandemic entitled “Black Carolinians Speak: Portraits of a Pandemic.” Among other awards, Harriot has been honored with “The Order of the Palmetto,” the highest civilian award in the State of South Carolina, and she was inducted into the first class of the Ernest A. Finney Hall of Fame.

Thoroughly southern, Simon Lewis was raised in the South of England and near Cape Town, South Africa. He returned to England to complete high school and an undergraduate degree at Worcester College in Oxford. A year as a graduate student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia revealed a passion for teaching and for the next nine years he taught high school English in England and Tanzania. Returning to graduate school in the United States, Lewis completed his PhD at the University of Florida. Inspired by his mother’s experience as a farmer’s wife in South Africa, his dissertation focused on white women writers on farms in Africa. Since 1996 he has taught in the English Department at the College of Charleston, specializing in African and postcolonial literature. He quickly became fascinated by Charleston’s African heritage and became enthusiastically involved with the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW) program. For the last two decades he has been associated with CLAW as either Associate Director or Director, overseeing numerous public lectures, symposia, and conferences on topics as diverse as foodways, material culture, public history, and Jewish intellectual migration. He has also served as director of the College of Charleston’s African Studies program and the African American Studies program. He served as Associate Dean in the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs for five years, as well. As a scholar, he has published two monographs on African and British literature and is the editor of four volumes of essays stemming from CLAW program conferences. The author of some 20 peer-reviewed articles on African literature, notably on South African poetry, he is also a prolific reviewer both of academic texts for scholarly journals and of novels and trade books for the Charleston Post and Courier.

John W. White has served as the dean of libraries at the College of Charleston since 2014, following a two-year appointment as interim dean. In his role as dean, White leads the College Libraries in their mission to serve as the hub for student and faculty discovery and collaboration. With senior administration, White guides the Libraries’ vision and ensures its position as the heartbeat of campus and sanctuary for the nearly one million annual patrons. White has been with the Addlestone Library since 2001. He has served as an archivist, department head and associate dean. He has been the principal investigator on more than a dozen state, federal, and private foundation grants. White is the author of a number of works on Southern history and politics, including “Race, Grass Roots Activism and the Evolution of the Republican Party in South Carolina,1952–1974,” in Glenn Feldman’s Painting Dixie Red: When, Where, Why, and How the South Became Republican (University of Florida Press, 2011) and “The White Citizens’ Councils of Orangeburg County, South Carolina” in Winfred B. Moore and O. Vernon Burton’s Toward The Meeting of the Waters: Journeys in the History of the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina, 1901–2003 (University of South Carolina Press, 2008). He is the co-editor of Data Driven: Digital Humanities in the Library, which was published by the Purdue University Press. He is also co-editor of Challenging History: Race, Equity, and the Practice of Public History (forthcoming, University of South Carolina Press).

The 2021 Governor’s Awards in the Humanities ceremony was recorded and live-streamed on YouTube on Thursday, October 21, 2021. To watch the ceremony, visit the SC Humanities YouTube channel.

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 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.