Adventures written by the VAMONDE Team
The ground floor of the building located at 9 College Way in Charleston housed The Book Basement, the leading independent bookstore in the city for several decades. This location is steeped in history for its involvement with the LGBTQ community in Charleston, as well as being a place frequented by many local university students at the College of Charleston.
The bookstore began as a place where people would drop in to browse, for conversation, to sit by the fire, or get a cup of tea. On Saturday afternoons, shop-goers would come to hear radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera, but no matter the hour, music filled the bookstore's tiny rooms. The Book Basement was owned and run by Edwin Peacock (1910-1989) and John Zeigler (b. 1912), one of the city's most prominent gay couples. The Book Basement served as a meeting place for many, whether that was civil rights groups or members of the LGBTQ community. Peacock and Zeigler were known to be members of the NAACP, served on the city's interracial committee, and welcomed black customers during a time of heavy segregation. They faced discrimination themselves as a gay couple, but they were out and open to all. The pair ran the bookstore, salon, retreat and safe space for writers, readers, and thinkers for 25 years.
Several gay people who visited Charleston, including the children's author Maurice Sendak and Harlem Renaissance poet and writer Langston Hughes, stopped at the Basement and became friends of the owners. The bookstore might be the only site in Charleston that mentions a gay couple. Peacock and Zeigler's names are linked only as business partners, but their names are together on the plaque in front of the building. The relationship between them was detailed in Zeigler's cycle of memorial poems, The Edwin Poems and in his autobiography, Edwin and John: A Personal History of the American South.
Cover photo by Marina Mazur via Unsplash.