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Home Guard: Coastal Conservation League’s new leader Faith Rivers James aims to create spaces where people can feel free and safe

Home Guard: Coastal Conservation League’s new leader Faith Rivers James aims to create spaces where people can feel free and safe
November 2022

James shares how growing up in Mount Pleasant's Four Mile community has influenced her career and her goals for CCL

Serendipity. That’s how Faith Rivers James describes her path to becoming the new executive director of the Coastal Conservation League (CCL). James grew up in Mount Pleasant’s Four Mile community, where Interstate-526 now terminates into Highway 17. During her time as the first female African American graduate of Porter-Gaud, then at Dartmouth, and later at Harvard Law School, she watched her idyllic village morph into a bustling highway interchange. 

Later, as the executive director of the South Carolina Bar Foundation, she helped found the Center for Heirs’ Property Preservation to preserve Black-owned land in the state. 

James then joined the faculty at Vermont Law School before serving as an associate dean at Elon University School of Law. In 2018, she returned to the Lowcountry, where she was assistant provost for leadership at The Citadel, and she and her husband built their home on her family’s land on Daniel Island. Here, James discusses her new role.

CM: What was it like growing up in Four Mile in the 1970s?
It was idyllic. Folks lived with their screen doors open all of the time. Highway 17 was a quiet little two-lane highway that connected the Charleston community to Georgetown. Four Mile was a place where walking to Sunday school was a safe thing to do, and everybody knew each other. It was the essence of what people love about the Lowcountry. Playing in the woods gave me a feeling of freedom and fun and appreciation for nature that has continued all my life. To be free and safe at the same time is something today’s generation is missing. My mission is to re-create some of those experiences. 

CM: Your career has spanned property and environmental law, teaching leadership, and creating policy in Washington. How will those varied experiences shape your tenure at CCL?
The evolution of my career has prepared me for this job—from working with people from different communities, to appreciating the peace and learning how that can happen in a natural environment, to the leadership I saw working with the US House majority leader and gaining the appreciation for how government of the people should work for people. Helping people influence their leaders has been my north star. 

CM: Have you overlapped or worked with CCL at any point in your career?
When I was leading the Bar Foundation, CCL was an important partner in our mission to provide legal services to heirs’ property owners. I saw people from my own Four Mile community dispersed all over because they lost their land, and the League helped us to consider the impact of land use regulations on our efforts to preserve communities. It was also fascinating to see the Conservation League in action to stop the Global Gateway Terminal [port facility] on Daniel Island. Because of CCL’s work, I’m able to live on my family’s land without a rail line running through it.

CM: What are the primary challenges and opportunities you foresee at the Conservation League?
We’re fortunate to be from a place where so many other people consider an ideal city to live. We want to ensure that growth accommodates current and new residents in a manner that promotes conservation outcomes that will maintain Charleston’s character. CCL will continue to work to conserve large tracts of land and to preserve communities so they can live where they are. It’s in all of our interests to realize that we share common objectives, because we all have to live together.

Raised: Four Mile in Mount Pleasant
Lives: Daniel Island
Education: Bachelor of arts in government from Dartmouth, juris doctor from Harvard Law School 
Family: Husband, Perry James
Hobbies: Playing the piano and singing
Favorite place:  Pinefield Point, her home