UGA history Professor Stephen Berry awarded NEH grant

Stephen Berry, Gregory Professor of the Civil War Era in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of history, has been awarded a highly competitive National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholars grant for his book project The Original Black Panther: Prince Rivers and the Lost City of Hamburg, a biography of Rivers (1824–1887) who was by turns a slave, color sergeant of the First South Carolina Volunteer Division of the Union Army, a South Carolina state legislator, and mayor of Hamburg, SC.

“I’m really excited to work full time recovering Prince Rivers’s remarkable life,” Berry said. “I discovered him while working on a project with the UGA DigiLab devoted to death records. The more I dug the more I came to realize that he is one of the most consequential Americans about whom Americans know nothing.”

The Public Scholars grant provides $60,000 over the course of one year for research, writing, travel, and other activities leading to the book’s creation and publication.

More about Prince Rivers, from Stephen Berry:

An enslaved carriage driver from Beaufort, Rivers fled to freedom on his carriage horse and became one of the first Black men in Union uniform. As color sergeant, Company A, first South Carolina Volunteers, Rivers was the tip of the Black spear – the first of the first of the first. His regiment was the first Black unit to take Confederate captives. They were the first to take a Confederate town (Jacksonville, Florida). They were, in effect, a federally-sponsored slave insurrection, liberating plantations in North Florida on which they had themselves been enslaved and some of their family members were still enslaved.

After the Civil War, Rivers oversaw one of the most successful experiments in interracial democracy in the history of the United States, serving as as mayor, trial justice, and general of the militia in Hamburg, South Carolina, where he became known as the “Black Prince” and the “Power of Aiken County.” Ultimately Rivers’s sanctuary city fell. It’s a golf community now, known as North Augusta. As for Rivers, he returned to the carriage, returned to ferrying other people to their destinies, completing the arc – from carriage driver, to soldier, to legislator, to mayor, to carriage driver again – that perfectly captures the window of opportunity that opened and closed on a remarkable generation of African Americans.