Despite its black leadership, the Enterprise Railroad created some tension within Charleston’s African American community.
Chartered on March 1, 1870, with a capital of $250,000, this railroad is unique in South Carolina history: with one exception, its initial board of directors consisted entirely of African Americans. Constructed in 1874, the railroad used horse-drawn carriages to carry passengers and freight, connecting wharves and railroad depots throughout the city of Charleston. The company was directed by such prominent African Americans as Richard H. Cain, William R. Jervey, William McKinlay, Joseph H. Rainey, and Robert Smalls. The board reflected the diversity of African American economic leadership after the Civil War, representing a shift away from the antebellum free-black elite. Only McKinlay had been a free-black taxpayer prior to the Civil War. In contrast, Smalls and Jervey were former slaves and held seats in the General Assembly during Reconstruction, and Cain was one of several northern blacks on the board.
Despite its black leadership, the Enterprise Railroad created some tension within Charleston’s African American community. Three-quarters of the city’s draymen were black, and they feared that the new railroad would diminish their business. Supporters of the railroad argued that jobs would actually be increased since the railroad would ease the passage of freight into and through Charleston. Led by an African American Presbyterian minister, Hezekiah H. Hunter, the draymen protested the railroad to little avail.
The Enterprise Railroad continued to operate into the 1880s, but the role of African Americans in directing its operations had declined by the end of the Reconstruction period. By the close of the 1870s, the direction of the railroad was in the hands of whites.
Powers, Bernard E. Black Charlestonians: A Social History, 1822–1885. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.