Hurricane of the New South: Disruption, Dispossession, and the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




In August 1893, the Great Sea Island Storm struck South Carolina with winds of 125 miles per hour, killing between 1,500 and 5,000 people, almost all African American, and leaving 30,000 sea islanders homeless and destitute. The 1893 hurricane, which wreaked havoc on lives, economies, and island environments, was a crisis that spurred the transformation of the sea islands from a place with a robust black political community after the US civil war to a sanitized space of white leisure by the mid-twentieth century. In the wake of the hurricane, black sea islanders and white South Carolinians hotly contested the recovery process. Ultimately, the consolidation of white supremacy under Jim Crow relied on black dispossession rather than the exploitation of black labor. This dissertation investigates how the hurricane’s disruption of economic, political, and demographic patterns catalyzed that change in the late nineteenth century.