PSE's 'Living Oak Project' to create an oral history of the Cainhoy area
Fifth graders Treniece Mack Davis and Kiera Clarke sit on a porch overlooking Clements Ferry Road. Their words are occasionally muffled by the sound of passing cars as they speak to Davis’ grandmother, Susie Mack, and Clarke’s mother, Jackie Clarke, president of the Philip Simmons Elementary School (PSE) Parent Teacher Association.
Although it seems mundane now, this is the beginning of the Living Oak Project at PSE. The initiative, created by Jackie, is a planned undertaking that allows students to interview older generations and create an oral history with what they’ve been told.
“The theory behind the Living Oak Project is if you nurture strong roots, you’ll have healthy branches,” said Jackie. “So, if we start this way before the community explodes, we have a chance in Charleston to maybe do it right, to build a strong foundation from the beginning that we can all live together.”
In the project’s initial conversation, Kiera and Davis asked their elders about life when they were growing up.
“I was going to school during the week,” Mack told Kiera. “On the weekends, we used to walk, go to church, Sunday school in the mornings. The funny thing is when we walked to school, sometimes snakes would cross the road, and we would stop, turn around, and run back.”
“We didn’t get to go out as much. Not at that age,” she added. “Our parents were more strict on us, going to church, going to school. And if we go anywhere, we would be with them.”
“How was it when you were my age?” Davis asked Jackie.
“I moved around a lot in my life, but did a lot of the same things you guys do: playing, sleepovers, playing in soccer, running around,” Jackie responded.
Kiera stated that the Living Oak Project taught her to “be nice to other people, and learn other peoples’ history.”
Davis had a similar response.
“History means a lot to us and we should always learn about it and not push it away,” she said.
As an historical document, the project has the potential to yield important notes of the Cainhoy area’s history.
“Before all this traffic, there was a place where everybody knew everybody. Cars would go by and you knew whose car it was,” said Davis. “The kids, they would walk up and down the highway and they didn’t have to worry about anything. They were having fun, nobody got in trouble. This was just a nice place to live, but now it’s a little more crowded.”
The Living Oak Project is still in its gestation, but Jackie has high hopes for its future.
“We see this as a great opportunity because we’re in a new community that hasn’t grown yet, so we have a chance to do it right,” she said. “My vision was to have kids from the school be part of the interviewing process for oral history collections. And then to document them both locally for the Keith School Museum, as well as to upload them into the Smithsonian.”
Though the students are collecting information about the past, the older generations undoubtedly think of them as the future. At the end of the first conversation of the Living Oak Project, Jackie asked Mack what advice she had for Kiera and Davis.
“They’re going to have to learn it’s good to trust one another,” she said. “Be good to each other, help each other. Always be there for each other.”