Understand SC

40 Episodes

By: The Post and Courier

Understand SC is a weekly podcast from The Post and Courier that explains the biggest stories shaping our state. We use the reporting resources of our newsroom and original interviews with newsmakers to help you better understand South Carolina.

What happens when local newspapers stop printing
Last Thursday at 6:30 PM

Across South Carolina, 10 local newspapers stopped printing last year — a record loss, at least in recent memory. 

What does a community lose when it loses its newspaper?

This week, reporters Jennifer Berry Hawes and Stephen Hobbs explain what they found in trying to answer that question.

They took a close look at two communities — one that still has a locally-owned paper in print and one that recently lost its newspaper — and talked to residents about the difference having, or missing, local coverage of their community can make.

You'll also hear from the edit...

The chaotic first 7 weeks of school in SC

The start to this school year in South Carolina was a pretty chaotic one. 

The delta variant of COVID-19 was quickly spreading, infecting students, teachers and staff and sending people into quarantine.

Meanwhile, schools couldn't enforce mask mandates. 

The result: Seven weeks into the year, at least 15 districts, 233 schools, and 156,169 students had reverted back to virtual learning.

This week on Understand SC, we talk with Hillary Flynn, editor of The Post and Courier’s Education Lab, a recently-launched watchdog enterprise unit within the paper that’s focused on in-depth reporting and large...

A conversation with The Post and Courier's new executive editor

Fun fact: This week is the 81st annual National Newspaper Week. 

As our way of celebrating, we’re bringing you a conversation about our newspaper. 

Recently, The Post and Courier named a new executive editor. Autumn Phillips, who became the paper’s managing editor in early 2018, stepped into the role in late August. 

This week, we spoke with Phillips about some of the big things happening for the paper, like fundraising to support investigative journalism, expanding to markets across the state and collaborating with community newspapers on stories exposing corruption.

She also sh...

How one SC doctor is addressing vaccine hesitancy

The number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations is beginning to decline across the country, signaling the beginning of the end of this latest surge, but, in South Carolina, like many states in the Southeast, coronavirus activity is still high. 

Health experts have been saying it for months: The state needs a higher percentage of its residents to be vaccinated.

But overcoming vaccine hesitancy isn’t easy. This week, we're hearing from someone who’s been having those difficult conversations with people who are vaccine hesitant. 

Dr. Thaddeus John Bell is a physician with a...

How Greenland contributes to Charleston's flooding problem

Some 3,000 miles north of Charleston, melting ice in Greenland is having a profound effect on Charleston's coastline. 

This week, we go behind the scenes of a special report that showed us how Greenland and Charleston are connected. We’ll hear from reporter Tony Bartelme and photographer Lauren Petracca about their trip to Greenland. You’ll learn what they saw out on Greenland's ice sheet, what they learned from speaking with locals and how they got to fly in a plane over icebergs with NASA.

Read The Greenland Connection. 

More from this project:


What to know about COVID's 3rd surge in SC

It’s been over a year and a half since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in South Carolina.  

And, as much as people would like it to be, this pandemic is far from over. 

Earlier this year, there was hope that this fall we would be edging closer to normalcy -- that we would have overcome vaccine hesitancy enough that spread would have slowed. 

But, that didn’t happen, and slow uptake of the vaccine combined with the delta variant brought on South Carolina’s third major surge in COVID-19 cases. 


SC Voices: Natalie and Ron Daise of 'Gullah Gullah Island'

Natalie and Ron Daise are storytellers.

Or, as they'd describe it, Natalie is a storyteller and Ron is a kind of keeper of stories, collecting and documenting. 

Together, they have been gathering, interpreting and sharing stories in South Carolina for decades.

The couple is best known for "Gullah Gullah Island," a children's television series that aired on Nickelodeon from 1994 to 1998. Their storytelling extended well after that show ended. It's never stopped, really, and the ways they tell stories have continued to evolve, even during the pandemic. 

Co-host Gavin McIntyre and I sp...

SC Supreme Court strikes down school mask mandate

The fight over requiring face masks in South Carolina schools reached the state's highest court this week. 

On Tuesday, the S.C. Supreme Court heard two cases related to masking rules that challenged a state budget provision that prohibits schools from using state-appropriated funds to require masks. 

Public health officials have strongly encouraged the use of masks, citing rapidly-rising COVID cases among school-age South Carolinians. 

But justices emphasized during hearings this week that they wouldn't be weighing in on the merits of mask, only the letter of the law.  

Just a coupl...

The Olympic journey of Charleston native Raven Saunders

Olympic shot putter and Charleston native Raven Saunders captured the world’s attention from the medal podium this year in Tokyo.

The Burke High School graduate had just won the silver medal in her second Olympics at age 25. 

From the podium, Saunders made a gesture of support that resonated for people in her hometown of Charleston and around the globe. 

This week, we’re taking a look at Raven’s athletic career, which started right here in Charleston, her journey to becoming an Olympian and what she’s had to overcome.


SC goes back to school amid COVID surge, mask controversy

It’s back-to-school week in the Charleston area.

A few months ago, many were hoping this week would go a little differently than it is now. People were hopeful that the return to school would also be a kind of return to normalcy, that COVID cases would be on the decline and the risks for health risks for students would be low.

But instead, the leadup to the school year has been stressful cases surge in South Carolina, driven by the aggressive delta variant. 

Studies from the CDC have shown that having staff and...

A view of the COVID surge from inside a SC hospital

There are plenty of numbers available that show the troubling point that South Carolina has reached in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Aug. 11, the state surpassed 10,000 deaths from the virus. Case numbers are high, and data from the Medical University of South Carolina show the aggressive and more highly transmissible Delta strain now accounts for more than 92 percent of positive tests. 

But sometimes — perhaps especially now, months after coronavirus vaccines became available and gave people hope that a return to normalcy could be near — it can be difficult to understand the grim reality behind those figures. 


Long-awaited audit shows racial disparities in policing

North Charleston residents have been calling for a racial bias audit of their police department for years. 

Community members and activists have said for a long time that officers overpolice Black residents in their city, which is the third-largest in South Carolina. It's also the community where Walter Scott, a 50-year-old Black man, was gunned down while trying to flee a police officer. 

That was six years ago.

A racial bias audit just got underway there last fall, and findings were presented to the community this month.

This week on Understand SC...

The $3 billion question facing SC schools

Back-to-school time is nearing, and as students and parents stock up on supplies and squeeze in that last bit of summer fun, South Carolina's school districts are facing one of the biggest assignments they have ever been given.  

They have a potentially game-changing opportunity: Local school boards have received a total of $3 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money to help students catch up. 

The question now is how to spend it.

And that’s not an easy question to answer. Learning loss from the pandemic is different in every district, because every district appr...

An early look at SC's 2022 race for governor

South Carolina is about a year out from the primary for its next governor’s race and 16 months from the general election, but the contest has already generated a lot of conversation.

Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson even said he predicts it will be “one of the most exciting gubernatorial primaries that the state of South Carolina has ever seen.” So far, the Democratic contenders who have announced bids are former South Carolina Congressman Joe Cunningham and State Senator Mia McLeod.

Whoever wins that primary, though, will face a tough race against Republican Gov. Henry McMaster...

SC's secretive process for disciplining judges

In South Carolina, judges can face allegations of misconduct, conflicts of interest or criminal activity in secret. 

The Disciplinary Counsel’s office, an investigative arm of the state Supreme Court, receives more than 200 complaints against the state’s judges each year, but rarely do the office's investigations lead to the removal of judges or even to public reprimands. 

As we’ve discussed on our episodes about The Post and Courier’s ongoing Uncovered series, South Carolina's systems for holding public servants accountable often lack transparency. But there are few systems as cloaked in secrecy as the state...

Lack of details about Murdaugh homicides leaves questions, rumors

It’s been more than three weeks since two members of the prominent  South Carolina Murdaugh family were shot dead at their hunting lodge along the border of Colleton and Hampton counties.

But, despite the amount of time that has gone by and the high-profile nature of their deaths, which are being investigated as murders, police have offered few details about the case.

With little official information available, the rumor mill has churned as interest in this case has grown, in South Carolina and beyond. 

This week, reporter Thad Moore and editor Glenn Smit...

In SC, public officials cross ethical lines with little consequences

Corruption is common,  but why does it happen? 

Since 2018, more than 1,100 public servants in South Carolina have clearly crossed ethical lines, the Post and Courier found. 

The latest installment of our ongoing "Uncovered" series about unreported corruption investigates those ethical breaches and looks at why public officials often face little or no consequences when they're caught doing the wrong thing. 

From a teacher who pawned a student's saxophone to a Department of Transportation foreman accepting kickbacks, projects reporter Tony Bartelme explains the "gray zone" created by the lack of consequences when public officials cross...

Charleston could change zoning to account for flooding, sea rise

Last week, The Post and Courier was named a finalist in the local reporting category of the Pulitzer Prizes for Rising Waters, our ongoing series about flooding, sea level rise and the accelerating effects of climate change in the Lowcountry. 

The weekend after that announcement, Charleston got a lot of rain. 

It was a familiar scene: People wading through knee-deep floodwaters in city streets, cars submerged and stalled and roads closed.

It was more evidence of why flooding continues to be a pressing issue for Charleston — and why the city is considering doing some...

Search for USC's next president begins after plagiarism scandal

South Carolina's largest university is again on the search for a new leader.

After then-University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen lifted lines of a speech without attributing them, the retired three-star general resigned, marking the end of his two-year tenure.

Caslen admitted to lifting lines for his commencement comments without giving credit. He was also criticized for mistakenly referring to new graduates as alumni of the "University of California."

Caslen's hiring — not just his departure — was controversial.

Now, with a new presidential search ahead for the university, some critics are callin...

'I Am Omar': How the Post and Courier searched for Omar ibn Said's true identity

The question is one that propelled a lengthy reporting process and led a pair of journalists from South Carolina across the Atlantic Ocean to Senegal: Who was Omar ibn Said, really?

When two Post and Courier journalists started pursuing that question, they knew Omar was a Muslim scholar who, at age 37, was captured from his home in Futa Toro and forced onto a slave ship bound for Charleston. Omar had lived the rest of his life enslaved, first in South Carolina and then North Carolina.

Throughout that time, Omar wrote at least 15 surviving texts in...

From guns to abortion to hate crimes, what SC legislators did and didn't do this session

This month, South Carolina’s regular legislative session came to a close. 

This latest lawmaking period followed an election that strengthened GOP majorities in both the House and the Senate, and it showed. 

The session started with a law banning most abortions and ended with passage of bills expanding gun rights and resuming the death penalty.

The session's theme, for either side of the political aisle, is that "elections have consequences," said political reporter Jamie Lovegrove. 

This week on the podcast, he, along with assistant Columbia bureau chief Seanna Adcox and Post...

'Justice for Jamal': Videos of death in SC county jail prompt outcry for change

It’s taken months for details about Jamal Sutherland’s death to be released.

Only in the last couple of weeks has there been a better understanding of what happened on Jan. 5 at the Al Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston. 

Late last Thursday, the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office released videos of two deputies using pepper spray, stun guns and other force against Sutherland, a Black mental health patient. Those videos have raised serious questions about how people with mental illnesses are treated by police.

Activists are calling for sweeping, long-term changes. 


Mask mandates ending in SC as uptake of COVID vaccine slows

Just over 1 in 3 South Carolinians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Almost 44 percent have received at least one shot. 

That’s good news, but health experts have been concerned about slowing demand for the vaccine. Earlier this year, it was difficult to get a vaccine appointment. Demand far outpaced supply. Now, that’s switched. South Carolina could be vaccinating many more people a day than it is right now. 

Citing the availability of COVID vaccines, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued an executive order this week that sought to cut down on government-mandated rules about wearin...

South Carolina's Santee Cooper saga, explained

The debate over what to do with South Carolina's embattled state-owned utility Santee Cooper has dragged on for years. 

Lawmakers knew they had to do something with it — whether that be sell the utility, reform it or turn over its management — after it lost more than $4 billion in the failed expansion of the V.C. Summer nuclear power plant, which is widely considered to be the biggest business failure in the state's history.

That project fell apart in July 2017, and a path forward for Santee Cooper just became clearer in the last week. 


Bringing SC's first mass transit system to the Lowcountry

As the Lowcountry region has grown, so has its issues with traffic and the strain on its roadways. 

One of the solutions proposed to ease that strain is a high-capacity mass transit system, something that doesn't exist yet in the state. 

That system is in the works for the Charleston area, and it has been for years. It’s called Lowcountry Rapid Transit, and this week residents got the closest look yet at how it will actually work.

It’s a bus rapid transit system — listen for more on what that means — and it will stre...

Waccamaw Indian People gain support for fight to be federally-recognized tribe

Chief Harold "Buster" Hatcher of the Waccamaw Indian People has been fighting for his tribe to be justly acknowledged.

That effort started about 30 years ago, and it’s far from over. 

His tribe is one of nine that are recognized by the state of South Carolina. What Hatcher is still working for, though, is federal recognition, which comes with significant benefits. Federally-recognized tribes can be eligible for specific services and protections and have a government-to-government relationship with the United States. 

But getting that recognition doesn’t come easily, as evidenced by the decades put in...

SC is 1 of 3 states without a hate crimes law. That could change soon.

South Carolina is one of three states that doesn’t have a hate crimes law. But earlier this month, a bill that would remove the state from that short list passed easily through the House.

There have been attempts to pass this kind of legislation before, but the April 7 vote was a big step: The House had not passed a hate crimes bill before. 

This time around, the legislation has been boosted by the support of the state's business community which has said that South Carolina's lack of legislation on hate crimes hurts its competitiveness as...

Charleston restaurants are busy again. Now, they face a staffing crisis.

Charleston-area restaurants are bustling again. 

COVID-19 vaccinations started to become more widely available right around the time when business typically picks up for the local hospitality industry at the beginning of March, and bars and restaurants started to fill up again at a rapid pace. 

But, while tables may be full, that doesn't mean kitchens are. 

Charleston-area restaurants are again facing a worker shortage. 

This week, food editor and critic Hanna Raskin shared an update on the current state the food and beverage industry in Charleston, which is thankful for record sale...

Residents of historic Phillips Community fight for its survival

Instead of touting old buildings or artifacts, the historic Phillips Community points to its people. 

The families who inhabit the small community today are descendants of the formerly enslaved freedmen who founded Phillips in 1875 where a plantation of the same name had been. They themselves are “living history” one resident said, passing down common values through generations. 

Family. Working together. Everybody knowing everybody. 

But the world around Phillips, an unincorporated community in Charleston County east of the Cooper, changed dramatically once more people moved into the area. 

This week, we heard from lif...

Why this could be the year Jim Clyburn closes the 'Charleston loophole'

South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn has for years been one of the most influential Democrats in Washington. 

He’s the House Majority Whip, the highest-ranking Black member of Congress and the only Democrat in South Carolina’s delegation. And, right now, he’s in the midst of what’s likely to be one of his most significant terms in Congress since coming to Washington in 1993.

Clyburn has a wishlist of bills he’s hoping to pass — including one that would get rid of what’s been called the Charleston loophole — and he’s hoping President Joe Biden can help...

How SC-based artist Beeple rocked the art world

North Charleston resident Mike Winkelmann made history. 

Better known as Beeple, on March 11, he fetched a record-breaking $69.3 million for a single digital artwork through the art auction house Christie's.

That winning bid is the third-highest price paid at auction for a work by a living artist.

While the image of the work, which is titled "Everydays: The First 5,000 Days," can be easily viewed and downloaded online, the digital file auctioned off was a non-fungible token, or NFT. It lives on a blockchain, will only be sold by Beeple once, and its authenticity and o...

The barriers to becoming a homeowner in Charleston

Becoming a first-time homebuyer in the Charleston area isn't easy. 

And, thanks to surging home prices that brought the median cost in the tri-county area over $300,000, buying a home in the Charleston region didn't get any easier during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

In addition to the price tag, there are other barriers keeping some would-be homebuyers from making that purchase.

Today on the podcast, we dig into a few of those barriers. 

First, reporter Rickey Dennis breaks down some of the factors that continue to perpetuate a disparity in homeownership between White and...

BONUS: Majority of SC now qualifies for COVID vaccine

Last week, Gov. Henry McMaster announced an expansion of coronavirus vaccine eligibility, making an estimated 2.7 million more residents qualify for appointments. 

That includes essential workers, those 55 and older and people with certain underlying health conditions.

The news came as South Carolina reached the milestone of administering more than one million vaccines and the one-year mark from the first-ever COVID diagnoses in the state. 

Health reporter Mary Katherine Wildeman walks us through who is eligible, how to get a vaccine appointment and what to expect as we move forward.

Listen now for mo...

The rise and decline of SC-born grocery chain Bi-Lo

The name "Bi-Lo" has been disappearing from storefronts across the state, and it's only a matter of time before all of them are gone.

Last year, it was announced the brand is being retired. 

But Bi-Lo was once a thriving chain in the Southeast, one that got its start as a locally-owned company in South Carolina's Upstate, known for having a familial atmosphere and decorative fiberglass bulls. 

Under the leadership of founder Frank Outlaw, 70 Bi-Lo stores were opened in the Carolinas. Then, under the ownership of a Dutch conglomerate, Bi-Lo entered a period of...

BONUS: Public servants at SC fire district served themselves

At a little-watched fire district in South Carolina's Upstate, public servants served themselves on the taxpayers' dime. 

In the second installment of The Post and Courier's "Uncovered" series, reporters discovered how top officials were accused of stealing taxpayer money, showering themselves with perks, promoting a commissioner's spouse and retaliating against those who tried to speak up.  

Reporters Avery Wilks and Joey Cranney explained how they used court, spending and ethics records to uncover a string of previously unreported misconduct at one of Greenville County's smallest public agencies.

Listeners will also learn how the cou...

SC's Civil Rights history, through the lens of Cecil Williams

Cecil Williams had a front-row seat to South Carolina's Civil Rights history. 

Look up photos of major events from the Civil Rights Movement, and his name will be on the photos. 

Starting in his very early teens, he captured images of iconic people and moments: Thurgood Marshall getting off a train in Charleston, protestors marching outside All-Star Bowling Lanes before the Orangeburg Massacre and hospital workers in Charleston striking for fair pay. 

In 2019, Williams opened his own Civil Rights museum in his hometown of Orangeburg. His photos fill the walls. 

He'd beco...

Uncovering corruption in South Carolina

When people aren't looking, corruption can run rampant. 

That's why The Post and Courier launched "Uncovered," a project shining a light on misconduct in South Carolina, especially in small towns.

For the first installment of the ongoing investigative series, reporters sifted through thousands of pages of spending records and ethics complaints, interviewed whistleblowers and consulted researchers and watchdogs about solutions. And the work has just started. 

This week, reporters from the "Uncovered" team shared a behind-the-scenes look at their reporting and what it has brought to light so far.

Tony Bartelme ex...

SC poised to pass 'heartbeat bill' banning most abortions

A bill that would effectively ban most abortions in South Carolina has been advancing quickly through the Statehouse. After past failed attempts, this appears to be the year the so-called "heartbeat bill" will be signed into law in the Palmetto State. 

Similar laws have been passed in almost a dozen other conservative states, but none are enforced because of court challenges. 

The same is bound to happen with South Carolina's ban, if it's passed, so the policies won't take effect anytime soon — if ever. 

Political reporter Jamie Lovegrove has been following the bill's progre...

New, faster-spreading COVID variants in South Carolina

South Carolina was the first state in the U.S. to have a confirmed case of a new strain of the coronavirus first found in South Africa. 

And it wasn't just one case but two, found in different regions in the state, and health officials said the cases aren't connected. 

So, what does that tell us about the prevalence of this variant in the state, and what does the presence of this strain mean for the effort to vaccinate South Carolinians against the coronavirus? 

We spoke with health reporter MK Wildeman about what we...

South Carolina's quickly evolving COVID vaccine rollout

Since COVID-19 vaccinations first became available in South Carolina last month, there has been a lot to follow.

Who is eligible to get a vaccine? How many shots is the state getting? And how many of those vaccines have already been administered? 

Like every part of the country, the demand for vaccines in South Carolina outweighs the supply, but it’s been difficult to even get the supply that is in-hand into the arms of eligible health care workers and seniors who are 70 and older. 

This week on the podcast, Assistant Columbia Bureau Chie...