For much of the post World War II period rice plantations around Charleston have been converted from agricultural to suburban developments. In fact, it’s impossible to imagine present-day Charleston along the Cooper and East Cooper areas without that re-development process. Recent news shows the suburbanization and creation of high-end real estate continues and, in addition to proximity to river frontage, an aspect of the appeal is living on historic plantations. In other words, the Plantation Mystique is alive and well.
In Charleston along the Ashley River a developer has moved to develop part of Ashley Hall Plantation.
On the Waccamaw Neck new lots are being made available on Waverly Plantation.
Last December I had the great pleasure of taking part in the inaugural Hill Rice Symposium in Trinidad that Francis Morean organized. The occasion also marked the 200th anniversary of the arrival of the Merikans to Trinidad.
A Hill Rice Field in Trinidad, Dec. 2017
David Shields, the preeminent scholar of heirloom rice varieties (and Lowcountry food history generally), Chef J Dennis, and Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation all represented South Carolina at the event. Adding in farmers, scholars and archivists from Trinidad and Dr. Tony Richards of Antigua, the conferees shared much with each other.
Left to right: David Shields, Queen Quet, Tony Richards, BJ Dennis and farmer John Elliott
Jill Neimark wrote a fine account of the Merikans, red bearded rice and renewed connections of food and culture in the African Diaspora for The Salt. Red bearded rice is thought to be the descendant of native West African rice otherwise known as Oryza glaberrima. David Shields penned a more detailed account of this in The Carolina Gold Rice Foundation’s site.
John Elliot’s rice drying room
For many months several distinguished figures interested in expanding the public’s understanding about Lowcountry rice culture, Dr. Edda Fields-Black and artist Jonathan Green have been planning, creating and recruiting to make the “Requiem for Rice” a reality. The completed composition combining the libretto by Fields-Black and original score by Trevor Weston will be performed in Charleston in October 2017. The Charleston Post and Courier recently gave it extensive coverage.
Among the most evocative and unique items in the new National Museum of African American History and Culture is a textile dubbed “Ashley’s Sack.” Historian Mark Auslander recently published an account of the likely provenance and history of the sack. You can read it at Southern Spaces. Auslander goes on to explore the emergence and evolution of the interpretation of slavery at historic sites such as Middleton Place – one of the most prominent rice plantations in the Rice Kingdom and among the most visited public history sites there today.
The Gullah/Geechees in the northeast corner of Florida get much less attention than those in Georgia and South Carolina. This piece from St. Augustine shows that the Gullah-Geechee Corridor is having an effect there too. Wherever Geechee are you also get the commonality of rice, as interviewee Edith Harris says here: “We would say, ‘Oh he’s a Geechee, or she’s a Geechee,’” she said, laughing. “And, ‘My don’t they like rice.’”
No aspect of the Rice Kingdom’s past is more fraught now than gaining a proper understanding of what Lowcountry slavery was like in scope and texture. We can’t truly know it, but we can come much closer than we have. Formal education is one place that this must take place but for many who are past classroom days museums, tours, and as array of media forms must do this job. For that to happen those who exhibit, write, speak, and shape institutions have to be committed to reckoning with the past.
See Ron Stodghill’s nicely illustrated piece on this subject.
Historical amnesia is powerful. For two hundred years or more, white rice planters in the Rice Kingdom denied that Africans contributed any thing but brute labor to rice culture. Thanks to scholars from many disciplines that amnesia has been replaced with knowledge of many contributions. The latest is DNA work that shows that a rice variety used in Suriname today is an African (Oryza glaberrima) variety.
Appropriately for the new National Museum of African American History and Culture the rice kingdom is well represented. Several objects from rice plantations are featured including a full slave cabin from Edisto Island. Among the most poignant is the famous, but not nearly famous enough, memento dubbed “Ashley’s Sack” for a daughter who was sold away from Middleton Place. Read more about these and other SC items in the museum. Better still, make a visit to the museum which opens this weekend.
Hannah Raskin revealed in the Post and Courier that a home movie demonstrating a range of rice culture practices has been discovered. The film dates from 1941 and took place on the Edisto River plantation called Willtown Bluff.
The video has been made available on the Post and Courier’s website.
Rodale’s Organic Gardening did their part to educate their readership about Carolina gold Rice!