South Carolina's Turkish People: A History and Ethnology

By Richardson, Marvin M. | The Journal of Southern History, August 2019 | Go to article overview

South Carolina's Turkish People: A History and Ethnology


Richardson, Marvin M., The Journal of Southern History


South Carolina's Turkish People: A History and Ethnology. By Terri Ann Ognibene and Glen Browder. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2018. Pp. xx, 235. $49.99, ISBN 978-1-61117-858-6.)

In South Carolina's Turkish People: A History and Ethnology, Terri Ann Ognibene and Glen Browder tackle the history, culture, and contemporary condition of one of the South's best-known yet least understood ethnic enclaves, the Turkish people or "Turks" of Sumter County, South Carolina. The Turkish people, like other groups in the South, have been marginalized by outsiders and scholars who have labeled them "tri-racial isolates," "Mestizos," and "little races" because they do not fit neatly into the physical, cultural, and social norms associated with the southern black-white racial binary (pp. 9, 24, 2). Ognibene, a Turkish descendant, and Browder, a Sumter County native, essentially present two books in one using two styles. Part 1 encompasses a traditional history with written primary sources, while Part 2 relies mostly on oral history interviews with Turkish informants and their relatives. Through these methods, the authors present clear research objectives to present the "full history and true story" of the Turkish people (p. xi).

Browder examines in fine detail the traditional narrative of the Turkish people by using primary sources, including DNA evidence, and scrutinizing the secondary literature to conclude that the traditional narrative is likely accurate. Central to the traditional narrative is the patriarch of the community, Joseph Benenhaley, a "'Caucasian of Arab descent'" and a subject of the Ottoman Empire (p. 3). Benenhaley somehow made his way to South Carolina and fought with Thomas Sumter in the Revolutionary War, which yielded Benenhaley some land and status as a white man. Benenhaley was joined by a man named John Scott, who also fought in the Revolution, as well as some Oxendines and other families of Native American descent from Robeson County, North Carolina. The Turkish people were darker-skinned than their white neighbors and lighter-skinned than their African American neighbors, which led to their marginalization. Through endogamy, self-induced isolation, and outside discrimination, the Turkish people maintained an ethnic subculture. …

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