News | October 18, 2021

Phillips Community Association presents SELC with Distinguished Service Award

Community leader Richard Habersham presented the Distinguished Service Award to SELC on behalf of the Phillips Community Association. (@SELC)

This fall, SELC received a Distinguished Service Award from the Phillips Community Association. Presented by community leader Richard Habersham at a family day cookout, the award follows SELC’s work representing Phillips community residents in challenging Charleston County’s plans to expand Highway 41 through their neighborhood.

“It’s an honor to work with members of the Phillips community, to learn their history, and to play a small part in helping to protect their community,” says Chris DeScherer, director of SELC’s South Carolina office.

In August 2020, Charleston County put forward a plan to widen a roughly five-mile stretch of the highway which passes through the Phillips community. Settled along Horlbeck Creek in the 1870s by freedmen, the historic neighborhood faced the threat of a road expansion that would threaten the survival of the community and worsen flooding along the corridor. SELC worked alongside other local groups to present alternatives to the plan, which raised many environmental and community impact concerns.

“The Charleston area is under so much pressure to expand, but development should not come at the expense of historic communities that were here long before the Lowcountry was affected by sprawling development patterns and the desire for four-lane highways,” adds DeScherer. “The residents in Phillips just wanted to be treated fairly and to offer other options and solutions, and we’re proud to work with them on that.”

The significant progress we’ve seen on this Highway 41 project in just over a year would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of Richard, Johnathan, Fred, Elijah, and so many other advocates in the Phillips Community.

Jenny Brennan, SELC Science and Policy Associate

Highway 41 is a major thoroughfare that connects areas in Mt. Pleasant, the formerly rural Charleston suburb where the Phillips Community lies, to Highway 17 and another growing county nearby. Charleston County was poised to move forward with the decision to widen the road in its current course and further cut through heirs property in the Phillips community, despite available, less-damaging alternatives. But a coordinated advocacy campaign, led by the Phillips Community and partner groups, helped rally the public and convinced the county to reconsider.

This August, during a county council meeting, the Phillips community was designated as a local historic district, recognizing the need for preservation of the historic settlement community. At a meeting later in the month, county council voted to advance an alternative that would avoid significant impacts to the Phillips community and would improve safety along the entire corridor. The project details will continue to be worked out as permitting moves forward, but for advocates in the Phillips Community who have engaged on this project for over a decade, the news came as a relief and a sign of progress.  

“For years the voices of the Phillips Community in the Highway 41 update process were overlooked,” said Habersham. “Groups in the partnership, including SELC, saw that we were worthwhile to save, worth fighting for. And, with the combined resources of the partners, we were able to amplify our voice and drive this in a better direction. We didn’t do this on our own, and it’s been great to see the difference this partnership has made.”