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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region.

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ORAL HISTORY

Bernita Joyner


Bernita Joyner, born in 1960, was raised in the East Side neighborhood of downtown Charleston. As a girl, Joyner often accompanied her mother to work. Her mother worked at the Scarlett O’Hara, one of the few white tablecloth restaurants in Charleston. Joyner would help the waitstaff polish glasses and fold napkins. In 1975, she got her first job in food and beverage at the Scarlett O’Hara polishing glasses, folding napkins, and setting tables.

Joyner continued working in restaurants while she studied accounting at Shaw University. She took a job in accounting. The work environment was racially tense, so Joyner’s boss suggested that she instead take a position as a hostess in his restaurant. In 1978, Joyner became the first person of color to work in the Heart of Charleston Café. In 1986, she took a job as a hostess and server in the Palmetto Cafe. The more formal setting lacked the relationship with guests of the restaurant. After a friend suggested that she would be better suited to casual dining, Joyner became a server at Charleston Crab House in 1995. Ms. B, as her coworkers call her, is the lead server at the Charleston Market Street location of the Charleston Crab House. She serves a high volume of tourists and regulars alike.

Date of interview:
2019-08-12

Interviewer:
Annemarie Anderson

Photographer:
Grace Beahm Alford

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