Las Voces del Lowcountry

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A Chronology of Latinx History in Charleston

There is power in a chronology. The simple act of listing events with dates is a fundamental tool of historians. But it is one we often take for granted. A chronology can demonstrate change over time. It can help us understand causality and suggest connections among events, people, and ideas. A good chronology should draw our attention to events that have been incorporated into official histories and popular memories, as well as events that have not been well-remembered. This chronology reflects all of the above. It documents the long history of Latinx in the Charleston area—dating back a century before they arrived in significant numbers as migrant farm laborers in the 1950s. There is evidence of the many contributions of Latinx to the region’s business and cultural landscape. There are also indications of the central role Latinx workers have played in generating wealth and in constructing the region’s built environment. Equally important is the long tradition of political struggle expressed through demands for public resources, democratic rights, and immigration reform.

To be sure, chronologies are mediated documents and they represent the editorial choices of their creators. We did not include, for instance, events related to the 16th Century Spanish exploration of the coast and settlements near modern-day Georgetown and Beaufort. Our emphasis here is on the development of Charleston’s present-day Latinx communities, along with select events that tie the region’s past to that of Latin America. Each entry is supported by at least once source. We relied heavily on local English and Spanish-language newspapers but also drew upon archival manuscripts and government documents and our personal collections of ephemeral materials, such as flyers, photographs, and meeting notes. We are grateful for the generosity of friends who shared their own historical documents and memories to help fill the archival gaps.

Finally, a chronology’s greatest power resides in its limitations. Never intended as a substitute for comprehensive historical narrative and analysis, a chronology is an invitation to continued research. Each of the entries listed in this chronology is a window into a much larger and richer story. This document should grow, change, and encourage further historical research. That work will reveal much that we do not know about Charleston and ourselves.

Latinx History of Charleston


2 December

A newspaper correspondent visits “Camp Butler” on the Citadel Square, where Charleston-area volunteers of the Palmetto Regiment prepare to invade Mexico.


19 September

The federal census records four Mexican-born residents living in the Charleston-area. They include Lorenzo Silva, 15, who lives in the household of a Cuban-born cigar maker named Ferrara.


12 April 

Insurgent leader P.G.T. Beauregard appoints Cuban revolutionary Ambrosio Jose Gonzalez to serve as an aide-de-camp during the attack on the United States at Fort Sumter.

29 October

Joseph Gabriel, a native of Mexico, marries Jane E. Clayton in Charleston.


2 October

William Elliot Gonzalez, the son of Ambrosio Jose Gonzalez, joins the incoming class of first-year students at The Citadel. He left the school later that year and began a career as an editor and publisher in South Carolina.


15 January

The United Fruit Company announces that it will soon begin construction of wharves, warehouses, and offices to accommodate “a regular line of fruit steamers” traveling between Charleston and the Caribbean and Latin America.

20 May

Area civic leaders join Cuban dignitaries in celebrating Cuban Independence at the South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition. Business and political leaders had organized the seven-month-long “Charleston Exposition” to boost the local economy and promote ties to the Caribbean and Latin America.


20 January 

The Citadel announces that cadet Arthur P. Gausp from Puerto Rico will be resigning from the college to enlist in the army.

8 October

To promote the purchase of Liberty Bonds, sailors at the Piney Grove training camp at the Charleston Navy Yard march under banners painted by the Puerto Rican company.

29 October 

1,800 Puerto Rican laborers arrive in Charleston on their way to Columbia to work on military construction projects. Six weeks later, they board the “City of Savannah” and are returned to Puerto Rico.


5 April

A census worker records Mexican-born Raynoldo Gomez, 39, living on Main Street in St. George, Dorchester County, and working as a gas station attendant. Gomez, who reportedly worked eighty-four hours the previous week, is one of forty-one South Carolinians recorded in the 1940 federal census as being born in Mexico or Puerto Rico.


4 August 

The United States signs the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement with Mexico providing employment contracts for Mexican “braceros.” The program is discontinued in 1964. 


22 July

Charleston Rebels pitcher Ramon “Chico” Salgado of Puerto Rico strikes out ten and shuts out the visiting Jacksonville Tars at College Park.


17 June 

Two hundred Texans of Mexican descent harvest vegetables on Edisto Island, according to the Charleston News and Courier. Later in the week, the newspaper reports that the migrant workforce picking and packing tomatoes on St. Helena Island includes many Mexicans.

27 June

A correspondent to the News and Courier reports that members of the United Church Women of Charleston have spent the week on Johns Island holding classes for the children of migrant workers.


12 June 

The News and Courier reports that the local tomato crop is the largest in the state’s history. The seasonal farm laborers are mostly “Negro, Mexican, and Puerto Rican with a few white.”


9 June 

Press reports indicate that Mexican migrant workers from Florida, Texas, and Mexico are living in a county-operated camp in Mt. Pleasant. The workers are among the four thousand Mexican Americans and African Americans working the Charleston-area harvest, most picking tomatoes.


9 June

Three days short of her third birthday, Sylvia Delgado, dies of the measles in a Beaufort hospital. Her death certificate indicates she was born in Beaufort, lived in nearby Frogmore, and is of Mexican descent.

14 June

The Rev. Enrique Pina, a Cuban-born Baptist minister, has been ministering to a community of two hundred Mexican-American migrant laborers living off of Four Mile Road in Mt. Pleasant, according to the News and Courier. The vast majority are “composed of families” and “call Florida home,” while a small number are from Texas.


31 May

The South Carolina Commission for Farm Workers, Inc. is awarded $395,018 from the Office of Economic Opportunity to educate seasonal and migrant workers in several South Carolina counties. The grant had been requested earlier in the year by the Joint Committee on Migrant Work of the United Church Women of Charleston and Catholic Charities of Charleston, Inc.


17 March

African American workers at the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston go on strike demanding union recognition, higher wages, and an end to racial discrimination.

19 June

The Rural Mission, Inc. of Johns Island is officially incorporated. The organization, cofounded by the Rev. Willis T. Goodwin, supports the needs of the people of coastal South Carolina, including migrant farm workers. Goodwin had been working with area migrants since the late 1950s under sponsorship of the United Church Women.


3 February

James E. Clyburn, an aide to Governor John C. West and the former executive director of the South Carolina Commission for Farm Workers, reports to state legislators that migrant workers have told him that their jobs are “the closest thing to slavery they have ever experienced.”


26 July

Six thousand migrants, mostly Mexican American and African American, are picking fruits and vegetables across the state, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Of that number, two thousand pick greens, tomatoes, and cucumbers in Charleston County.


19-20 September

The Trident Literacy Association sponsors a workshop to train English as a second language teachers at the Post-Courier building on Rivers Avenue.


The State Department of Education reports that summer programs across the state served 1,421 migrant students of whom 75% were of “Spanish-American descent.” The students hailed from twenty-one states, but the vast majority were from Florida.


12-18 September

The Charleston Air Force Base observes National Hispanic Heritage Week. Amigos Unidos, the Hispanic club on base, sponsors a film showing, a Mexican dinner, and various cultural events.

23 October

The Catholic Diocese of South Carolina holds Spanish-language masses in Charleston, Columbia, and the Greenville-Spartanburg area. Fr. James F. Quigley presides at St. Thomas the Apostle on Dorchester Road in North Charleston.


18 September

Trident Technical College offers classes in its first comprehensive English as a second language program.


12 October

At its first formal gathering, the Circulo Hispanoamericano de Charleston hosts Albert B. Sabin, a professor of biomedicine at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), best known for developing the oral vaccine for polio. Sabin speaks about his collaborative work with Latin American researchers and health officials. The Circulo, comprised largely of Latino professionals from MUSC and the College of Charleston, had been formed the previous year reports Carlos Salinas, an associate professor of clinical genetics and the founding president of the organization.


1 April

The U.S. Federal Census asks respondents if they are of Hispanic/Spanish origin or descent.

15 April

The Mariel boatlift begins. Over the next seven months, nearly 125,000 Cubans immigrate to the United States.


2 July

Selma Webb begins teaching English as a second language as part of Charleston County’s adult education summer program. The class is held at R.B. Stall High School in North Charleston.

23 August

Spotlighting the complaints of area growers who had just suffered a disappointing harvest, the News and Courier publishes an article suggesting that farm laborers are receiving too much assistance from local charities and government agencies.



On Johns Island, poor sanitary conditions sicken twenty-five farmworker children and ten are sent to the hospital due to severe dehydration.

15 July

Jack McCray of the Sea Islands Comprehensive Health Care Program discussed alcoholism at a recent “parent involvement meeting” at St. James United Methodist Church on Johns Island, according to the News and Courier. His talk targeted parents of children enrolled in the Migrant Head Start Program of the Rural Mission. Through a contract with the East Coast Migrant Head Start Project, the Rural Mission had offered Head Start services to migrant families at St. James, as well as its main facilities on Camp Care Road since 1980. Ninety-eight percent of the migrant workers on Johns Island are Hispanic, according to Rural Mission director Linda D. Gadson.


6 November

President Ronald Reagan signs the Immigration Reform and Control Act, providing a pathway to citizenship for nearly three million immigrants who had entered and remained in the country without authorization.


16 April

Members of the Tri-County Hispanic American Association perform at the North Charleston Arts Festival. The Goose Creek-based association was founded in November of 1986 by military families as a cultural and charitable organization.


22 September

Hurricane Hugo devastates the South Carolina coast.  

5 November

The Sunday Post-Courier spotlights the disaster relief work of the Sisters of Charity of our Lady of Mercy. Just days before the hurricane struck, the nuns had launched Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach Service, Inc. to meet the human needs of residents of the Sea Islands.  


31 July

The News and Courier advertises La Placita, a Latin America grocery store located on Red Bank Road in Goose Creek. The store owner is Martin Olmeda, native of Puerto Rico.


15 May

Replicas of the Pinta, Nina, and the Santa Maria sail into Charleston Harbor to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. More than five thousand people line up at Patriot’s Point to view the ships, while a small group of protestors decry Columbus’s legacies of genocide and slavery. 

30 July

The Post and Courier reports on the work of Isilda and Hector Santiago of Pimlico, who are assisting a Mexican farm worker paralyzed in an occupational accident on a Johns Island farm. The previous year, the Santiagos organized the Hispanic Society of Charleston to assist migrant workers and others in need.

22 August

The Charleston County Parks collaborates with the Tri-County Hispanic Association to sponsor the first “Hispanic Festival” at Palmetto Islands County Park in Mt. Pleasant.


22 May

The Bordallo family and John Wesley United Methodist Church members break ground on a Habitat for Humanity home on Johns Island.

1 July

The Post and Courier reports that laborers Juan Frias and Enrique Martinez, both of whom were educated at Mexican universities, are teaching conversational Spanish at Rockville Presbyterian Church.


12 January

The Post and Courier profiles Charleston’s international food markets, including La Placita in Goose Creek, and Productos de Mexico and El Mercadito on Johns Island.

31 December

Cuban-born shopkeeper Maria Blum closes El Estanco after twenty years in the cigar business on Broad Street.



The Tri-County Hispanic American Association presents the first issue of its bilingual publication La Voz Hispana. 

25 May

The Post and Courier reports on the Hispanic culture program at Mt. Zion Elementary School on Johns Island. About ten percent of the student body is Hispanic, according to the school librarian.


19 August

The International Discotec is licensed by the State of South Carolina. Los Terribles from Mexico and Grupo Misterio from Myrtle Beach are among the musical performers to entertain at this venue on College Park Road in Ladson.


17 November

The Mexican Consulate opens an office in Raleigh, North Carolina, to serve the growing needs of Mexican nationals in the Carolinas.


5 February

Vida Latina Publications Inc. is incorporated. The company, owned by local businessman Harry Withers, soon begins publishing Vida Latina, a Spanish-language newspaper.

20 March

The Post and Courier reports on the growing popularity of the Berkeley County School District’s “English for Speakers of Other Languages” classes. In its first year, the adult student body has grown from 464 students to 800. The classes are held at the Fishburne Learning Center in Hanahan.


WAZS Suave 980-AM, a full-time Spanish language radio station, begins broadcasting. Within a year and under new management, the station was renamed El Sol 980-AM.

11 October

The Post and Courier reports that the Charleston County Department of Social Services has received a $10,000 state grant to serve Hispanics. The newspaper also notes that the Department of Health and Environmental Control has formed a Hispanic health committee to publicize health services to Spanish speakers.

16 October

The Hispanic/Latino Ad Hoc Committee convened by the South Carolina Commission for Minority Affairs presents recommendations to Governor Jim Hodges aimed at meeting the needs of the state’s growing Hispanic population.


11 February

WTBD-TV Channel 22 becomes Charleston’s first Spanish-language television station.

15 February

WJEA-TV Channel 12, Charleston’s second Spanish-language television station, begins broadcasting.


MusicaVision, a locally-produced Latino music program, debuts on Comcast Cable, Channel 78.

6 July

An exhibition soccer match showcases the area’s best Hispanic players as Charleston's Liga Latina Premier All-Stars play the Myrtle Beach All-Stars at Blackbaud Stadium on Daniel Island.


28 April

Thirty-five undocumented Mexican and Honduran construction workers are arrested upon entering the Cooper River bridge worksite. The arrests were made by the SeaHawk Task Force, a federal initiative to improve port security.

28 June

For the third straight year, the Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE) hosts the Mexican Consulate at the union hall of Local 1422 of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA 1422). CAFE organizer Yadira Omar (Banda) coordinated the event. 

24 November

The Post and Courier reports that twenty-five percent of the six hundred students at Midland Park Elementary in North Charleston are English learners. Principal Susan Miles indicates that fewer than two percent of the students were English learners three years ago. Goose Creek schools report similar increases.


8 April

The Post and Courier reports on initiatives by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office and the North Charleston Police Department to improve police-Hispanic community relations. Later in the month, the department hires Miriam Walker, its first Spanish-speaking victim advocate.

11 May

Miguel Angel Rojas Lucas, a 20-year-old construction worker from Mexico, falls seventy-five feet to his death while working on an uncompleted section of the Cooper River Bridge. 


3 March

The Post and Courier reports on the rapid growth of Latinos in the Midland Park neighborhood of North Charleston. North Charleston Police Department Captain Reggie Burgess notes that they are frequently robbed of their cash salaries, but fear reporting to the police due to their lack of documentation.  

1 April

El Sol 980 AM is relaunched as Super Estelar 980 AM. The station also adds an FM station, El Sol 98.9 and a cable television station, Channel 22 TV Azteca.

28 July

Universal Latin News is founded by Marcela Rabens, a native of Peru.


10 April

Four thousand people gather in Marion Square to demand comprehensive immigration reform. The Charleston demonstration is part of a wave of protests organized around the country in support of the rights of immigrants.


28 January

Diana Salazar spearheads the formation of the Latino Association of Charleston to address issues affecting area immigrants.

7 June

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act falters in the U.S. Senate.


4 June

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford signs the South Carolina Illegal Immigration Reform Act into law.

30 November

The Post and Courier reports that Charleston County’s Hispanic students have nearly doubled in the past five years, from 1,370 to 2,317. At Midland Park Elementary fifty percent of the 750 students are Hispanic.


3-4 January

Hundreds of area residents attend a two-day immigration forum at the ILA Local 1422 hall and sign petitions urging President-elect Barack Obama to declare a moratorium on immigration raids and deportations that separate families.

11 October

Pedro de Armas, the editor of the El Informador Newspaper, announces the launching of the newspaper’s digital version on the first anniversary of its founding.

9 November

Under the federal 287(g) program, Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, Jr. partners with the Department of Homeland Security to collaborate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in enforcing federal immigration law.


27 June

Governor Nikki Haley signs SB20 targeting undocumented immigrants.

11 October

The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of civil rights groups file a lawsuit against South Carolina’s anti-immigrant law

20 November

Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez hosts a forum at the ILA Local 1422 hall to listen to testimonies of residents negatively affected by the passage of SB20.

19 December

Immigrants and human rights activists gather outside of the U.S. District Court in Charleston as Judge Richard Gergel hears challenges to SB20. Similar events are organized across the state.


15 June

President Barack Obama announces the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy that provides limited protections from deportation for nearly 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children.


22 September

Supervising attorney Emily Guerrero announces that Coastal Catholic Charities immigration legal services have moved into a larger building to accommodate the rising demand for their services.


19 December

Art Pot presents “Aramos en la Mar” at the Sterett Hall Auditorium in North Charleston. Maribel Acosta is the playwright and director.

24 July

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that between October and June more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors--mostly from Central America--were detained at the Mexican border. 350 of those children have been placed with relatives or sponsors in South Carolina.


30 January

At Mt. Moriah Church in North Charleston, Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez speaks to a crowd of more than five hundred people about President Obama’s executive order that shielded millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation and offered them the opportunity to apply for work permits.

19 March

The Hispanic Business Association is incorporated to support local Hispanic business owners and entrepreneurs.

4 April

On his way to his job as a barber in North Charleston, Dominican national Feidin Santana uses his phone to record video of the police murder of Walter Scott. Santana’s subsequent decision to share the video with the Scott family undermined efforts of the North Charleston police to cover up the killing.

19 September

Youth Immigrants in Action South Carolina meet with local DACA recipients to discuss community organizing at the ILA hall.


25 January

At the ILA hall, students from Atlanta’s Freedom University--a leadership training school for undocumented youth--discuss their work with local immigrant activists and allies.

9 November

Donald J. Trump is elected president after campaigning to end illegal immigration.


17 February

At St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in North Charleston, representatives of the ACLU, the Mexican Consulate, and Catholic Charities Immigration Services hold an informational meeting for residents concerned by the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration enforcement policies. Local attorneys hold similar meetings over the next several months. 

27 March

Lydia Cotton and Maribel Acosta open the Multicultural Center Art Pot in Hanahan.

20 September

Hurricane Maria strikes Puerto Rico killing nearly three thousand people. Many thousands leave the island in the aftermath.


20 June

Protestors gather at the U.S. Customs House to protest the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policies and the separation of families at the border. Similar “Families Belong Together” rallies are held across the country.

9 August

Aqui Estamos, a digital archive of material related to the history and culture of Latinos in the Charleston area, is made accessible to the public.

14 October

The members of Clayton Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church in Newberry vote to become a sanctuary church.

20 December

The Charleston Immigration Coalition debuts its Facebook page. 


18 February

Maria Cordova, a cofounder of the Circulo Hispanoamericano de Charleston, donates her papers to Special Collections at the  College of Charleston.

27 March

The Post and Courier reports that hundreds of asylum seekers are being held at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston. Mi Maletin, a North Carolina-based nonprofit organization, coordinates support for the detainees.

12 July

At Riverfront Park in North Charleston, hundreds of area residents protest the border detention camps as part of the national Lights for Liberty vigils.

4 November

Brenda Lopez Corley, who was raised in Puerto Rico, is elected to the town council in Mt. Pleasant.

9 December

At Charleston City Hall, the mayor’s Latino Advisory Council holds its first meeting.   


27 March

President Trump signs a $2 trillion stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The act excludes many millions of immigrants, including those who are considered essential workers during the pandemic.

16 April

Attorney Nina Cano Richards is elected 2nd Vice Chair of the Charleston County Democratic Party.