Charles Joyner

Color photograph of Charles Joyner

Charles Joyner. Image from American Archive of Public Broadcasting.

(1934- )  Charles Joyner’s relationship to South Carolina began in the 1730s when his first ancestors came to the Horry County area. His own experiences growing up in the Grand Strand have informed his writings and scholarly work. 

Joyner earned his baccalaureate in history and English from Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. After two years in the U.S. Army, Joyner continued his education at the University of South Carolina, where he earned his Ph.D. in history. He wrote his first nonfiction pieces at USC about major figures in America at the beginning of the twentieth century. Joyner then began exploring folk life in his beloved Grand Strand. Joyner supplemented his “academic income by performing concert-lectures of folk songs” that he had recorded from the Appalachians to the Carolina lowcountry, from the United States to Ireland and England. He continued building these skills and interests through his next Ph.D., at the University of Pennsylvania, where his doctoral specialization was folklore. In all of his scholarly products–publications, fieldwork, films, musical performances, and lectures–Joyner has continued to intertwine the skills of an historian with that of a folklorist.

Before joining the faculty at Coastal Carolina University, Joyner held a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard University where he studied comparative slave societies, and later he returned as an associate of the Du Bois Center. He has lectured at numerous venues around the world. Presbyterian College awarded Joyner an honorary doctor of humane letters recognizing Joyner’s outstanding lifetime accomplishments. The South Carolina Humanities Council awarded Joyner the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award, also recognizing his significant impact on the humanities in the state. He has been honored with the Ambassador of Peace Award given by the Ba’hai Center. In addition, in 2004, he was chosen for the roster of Distinguished Lecturers for the Organization of American Historians, and that same year, he was elected president of the Southern Historical Association. In 2012, he was inducted into the state’s literary hall of fame by the Board of Governors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, an organization that recognizes the state’s distinguished writers. His latest accolade comes from CCU where he was awarded the first University Medallion, acknowledging his significant community and scholarly contributions.

Joyner has published numerous books, co-edited many more, frequently contributed chapters, and written articles for such scholarly journals as the Southern Quarterly, Callaloo, and the American Historical Review. Two of his works, Folks Songs of South Carolina (1971) and Ain’t You Got a Right to the Tree of Life? The People of John’s Island, South Carolina–their Faces, their Words, and their Songs (1994), provide documentation of a mostly forgotten folk history. Through photographs, oral histories, field recordings, and contextual essays, these works seek to illuminate an African American history in small places. His book Remember Me: Slave Life in Coastal Georgia (1989/2011) recounts in pithy detail and beautiful prose the history, music, and culture of the African Americans of St. Simons and Sapelo islands. In Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture (1999), Joyner investigates the diverse peoples and traditions that bring unity in diversity to southern cultures and South Carolina in particular.

His most important book, Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Com- munity, a seminal study of rice plantations along the Waccamaw River, was the 1985 winner of the National University Press Book Award as well as the co-winner of the Chicago Folklore prize. 

Joyner is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Southern History and Culture at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. He was the first Burroughs Distinguished Chair in Southern History and Culture, as well as the director of the Waccamaw Center for Historical and Cultural Studies, two positions he held until his retirement in 2006.