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Alexandria Russell

Submitted by: Catherine Fleming Bruce

Celebrating African American Women in South Carolina

Preservation Statement Award for Alexandria Russell


Preserving and promoting African American public history in South Carolina has been central to Dr. Alexandria Russell’s research for almost a decade. A graduate of Richland County School District One, College of Charleston, and the University of South Carolina, Russell is a historian, public history practitioner, and educator whose research examines memorials created to honor the legacies of African American women in the United States.

In 2019, the Richland County Public Information Office commended Russell for promoting the significance of the memorials to African American women in the county. Her dissertation (now book manuscript), “Sites Seen & Unseen: Mapping African American Women’s Public Memorialization,” chronicles past and present public history sites across the nation. The first part of Sites Seen & Unseen, “Creating Their Own World: Named Memorials of African American Women During Jim Crow,” explores how African American women’s clubs championed named memorials as the primary medium of memorialization from the 1890s to the 1960s. In South Carolina, named memorials for Phillis Wheatley included the Literary Club in Charleston, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Columbia, and the Community Center in Greenville. In the second part of Sites Seen & Unseen, “The National, State, & Local Stage: Ushering in the Golden Age of African American Women’s Memorialization,” Russell details the development of the most expansive period in traditional public history memorials from the 1960s to 2018. She highlights Richland County house museums, including the [Celia] Mann-Simons Cottage, the Modjeska Simkins Home, and the Harriet Barber House.

Her 2021 article, “‘In Them She Built Monuments’: Celia Dial Saxon and American Memory” details how Saxon became the most memorialized African American woman in South Carolina. Despite having memorials that span over eighty years and being a heralded community leader, Russell’s “In Them She Built Monuments” is the first scholarly article that documents her life and legacy. Though she endured enslavement and Jim Crow rule in South Carolina, Saxon fought against race and gender oppression by spearheading social welfare projects for African Americans in Columbia as a community leader, activist, and educational trailblazer. Spurred by their faith and determination for social justice, women like Saxon met the needs of the most vulnerable by providing safe havens for children, working mothers, and orphans. Her professional and philanthropic contributions were so substantial that she was honored with several named memorials during her life and after her death. When the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees announced their decision to name a building in Saxon’s honor, the first campus building named for an African American person, they used aspects of Russell’s research in their public statements. On April 21, 2023, she will present her research at the Celia Dial Saxon building dedication at 700 Lincoln Street.

In August 2022, Russell founded Black Women Legacies, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, in South Carolina. The purpose of the organization is to educate and promote the existence of historic and contemporary memorials of Black women through an accessible online database. The research for the digital project begins in South Carolina with a statewide survey, which include archival papers, historic images, contemporary photographs, and digital moving images that correspond with each documented memorial. While many of these memorials have been marginalized and overlooked, Black Women Legacies provides the foundation for an interactive and engaging online project that showcases the presence of memorials in South Carolina. Russell’s curation of this content expands the scope of her research in Sites Seen & Unseen and provides the foundation for the Black Women Legacies digital project that will launch in 2024.

In addition to her research, Russell has helped to promote African American history in several South Carolina public history projects and programs. As an educator in Berkely County Public Schools, she participated in the Teacher Ranger Teacher program at the Charles Pinckney National Park Service Historic Site to create an inclusive historical narrative that highlighted the significance of the enslaved community by designing an educational guide for elementary, middle, and high school students. She created lesson plans for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of the South Carolina African American History Calendar and the Columbia63 civil rights history project. She has volunteered at several of Historic Columbia’s Jubilee festivals, along with being a consultant and speaker for them at the inaugural Columbia City of Women program in 2019.


Dr. Alexandria Russell is committed to preserving and promoting African American public history in South Carolina and beyond. Her body of work, service, and publications demonstrate her ability to create inclusive and equitable projects that are accessible to public audiences. Her research will continue to make a substantial impact in African American and Women’s history in South Carolina for generations to come.


Alexandria Russell Bio

(Updated December 2022)


Alexandria Russell is a Research Fellow for digital humanities at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery. She earned her Ph.D. in History from the University of South Carolina and Bachelors degrees in Political Science and Secondary Education from the College of Charleston. She has previously worked on Capitol Hill for Congressman James E. Clyburn (SC-06), as a middle school educator in South Carolina, and as a public history practitioner with the National Park Service. Her forthcoming book project with University of Illinois Press, Sites Seen and Unseen: Mapping African American Women’s Public History, is a national study that examines the evolution of African American women’s public commemorations in the United States from the late nineteenth century to the present.      She has received the W.E.B. DuBois Center Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst to support her research and is currently a Charles Warren Center American Democracy Fellow at Harvard University. Her work in the digital humanities has yielded several flourishing projects, including the Harvard & the Legacy of Slavery Tour Experience and “A Legacy of Leadership: Early African American Alumni of Harvard & Radcliffe.”

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