History of Turkish people in South Carolina

Friends of the Library hosted Terri Ann Ognibene’s and Glen Browder’s discussion of their new book, “South Carolina’s Turkish People,” at the Marlene and Nathan Addlestone Library on Nov. 8. Ognibene and Browder spoke about their research about Turkish people in South Carolina. The researchers collected stories from people within the Turkish community to learn about their history and the experience of dealing with segregation and isolation.

Ognibene and Browder argued the Turkish community never had a voice in their narrative. Instead, society demeaned the Turkish-American community in South Carolina. An audience member asked what have Ognibene and Browder learned from their research.

Browder replied that he learned that the South is richer culturally and historically than he previously realized. He said, “The most sober realization is that for some people, becoming American is a long and difficult ordeal.”

Ognibene replied that she learned that giving a community a voice is a powerful gift. “It’s important to love everybody,” she said.

Browder first addressed the broader history of the Turkish community in South Carolina. The community claims that their patriarch, Joseph Benenhaley, immigrated to South Carolina from the Ottoman Empire before the American Revolution. He served with General Thomas Sumter. Sumter was grateful for Benenhaley’s support, and so he allocated land for Benenhaley in Sumter County and the surrounding area. For nearly 200 years, Benehaley’s descendents have lived there.

Ognibene’s, Turkish-American mother discussed how Turkish people stayed on this land for 200 years. She concluded that Turks have remained on the same land because of societal pressure. Members of the community were treated as non-white during segregation. They were forced to use separate schools, churches, and other facilities. When students were allowed to go to traditionally white schools, the white students refused to attend the schools and the teachers refused to teach.

After Ognibene spoke, Browder showed the audience historic photos and portraits of the Benehaleys and their community in Sumter. He also showed photos of members of the community today, demonstrating how integration and acceptance helped improve the Turkish community. At the end of the event, the speakers answered questions from the audience. The book was available for purchase at the end of the event.

Ognibene earned a PhD in language and literacy education from Georgia State University and now teaches Spanish at Pope High School in Marietta, Georgia. Browder earned a PhD from Emory University and is a professor emeritus of political science and American democracy at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.

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Sarah Shtessel is a junior double majoring in Political Science and Economics and works as a staff writer for CisternYard Media. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she uses her free time to read, spend time with friends, and going to art galleries in Charleston.

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