After the morning at the Charleston Museum, I drove over to Bull Street, where I walked around, took pictures, and waited for the Avery Research Center to open. The institute, housed in a two-story brick building, is part of the College of Charleston. From their website:
The mission of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture is to collect, preserve, and promote the unique history and culture of the African diaspora, with emphasis on Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry. Avery’s archival collections, museum exhibitions, and public programming reflect these diverse populations as well as the wider African Diaspora.
The young man who helped me may have been relieved to be interrupted from his task of retrieving data from floppy disks, still, given that I walked in without an appointment, I really appreciated how helpful he was. He shared book titles. He printed out the entire 1740 Slave Code. He did a quick online search and determined where I could find the copies of The South Carolina Gazette that I was looking for. Gave me directions. Twice.
I ended up a few blocks away in the public library reading microfilm. Does anyone remember one of these? From seventh grade, maybe?
I was looking for reportage about the Stono Slave Rebellion (September 9, 1739). Didn’t find a word. Maybe Lt. Gov. Wm. Bull was overly distracted by the menace of the Spanish and the French. Or maybe it was thought better not to mention for other reasons. I’m sure historians have speculated about this elsewhere, so I won’t add my two cents — (when has the presence of a more informed opinion stopped you before?! you ask). Anyway, it’s entirely possibly that in my clumsy operation of the lens and wheels of this thing, I missed it. But I don’t think so. The 1740 Slave Code was the mention. I think the research assistant at the Avery already knew this, too.
I took a few mediocre pictures during my walk, but even so, I hope you’ll get an idea of what an incredibly pretty city Charleston is. So many gracious and historic homes! Then there’s the lush tropical plantings, beautifully crafted ironworks, and stone carvings! The day I was there, the light was beautiful, too.
* Just finished watching “Hidden Colors 2” — a movie that Grace recommended in a comment back in September. I’ll let you google it, b/c the link I watched was corrupted with ads. Fascinating stuff. I learned that the pineapple/pine cone can be used as a symbol for the pineal gland, which looks a lot like a pine cone. This gland produces melanin and is where the highest concentrations of serotonin can be found. Read about some of the studies that have compared racial differences and posited an African advantage, here. But watch the movie for an in depth retelling of our history taking race into account.
P.S. The first time I came across the idea of a superior African immune system was in the the slavery-rationalizing theories circulating in the mid-eighteenth century. One of them was referred to as ‘jungle immunity’. This notion held that Africans possessed superior immune systems (in particular for tropical diseases) was a convenient notion, then, for it justified working slaves in disease-infested swamps and marshes. Even before it was known that mosquitoes were the vector for some of the more awful diseases, the settlers knew that the fetid water of bogs, marshes, and swamps were not healthy.
The Sea Island Indigo Workshop weekend* began on Thursday, September 18 at the Charleston Museum with a rag-quilting workshop and storytelling by Sharon Cooper-Murray, aka ‘the Gullah Lady‘. Sharon is a compelling performer and interesting historian, as well as a fiber artist and writer in her own right.
Here’s a 25 second example of a Gullah tale that she told at Boone Plantation recently. If you hunt around YouTube you can find lots more! And, Charlestonmag.com posted an interview with her here. The Gullah story that we heard was vivid, complete with foot stomping and arm gestures. Translation needed — you could tell that some urgent message needed conveying, but not exactly what (turns out the hens used to rise first in the morning, not the roosters, and the story told why).
Rag quilting is a no-sew method of quilting making. Strips of fabric are poked into a loose weave base and tied on top. We used burlap for the base and a nail for an implement. Earlier makers used feed sacks or possibly, the loose weave fabric used to construct slave garments, osnaburg (also called ‘Negro Cloth’). It is a resourceful means of cloth making — requiring no needles, thread, or large scraps.
Sharon brings a work-in-progress along with her, to which we were all invited to insert a strip.
Here is Sharon — as herself — constructing one of her Indigo Babies for the dye vat. She sells these at fairs locally.
This method would be a terrific way to use up fabrics that are not needle-friendly.
Next up: visit to Avery Research Center, then two days of indigo dyeing in a pole barn!
Sea Island Indigo Workshop took place September 18-21, 2014 in Charleston, SC. A field of indigo was grown for us by Donna Hardy, on Rebellion Farm, in Ravenel, SC. Fiber artist Kathy Hattori, of Botanical Workshops, flew in from Seattle to co-lead the two days of hands-on indigo dyeing. My participation in the workshop was funded by a kickstarter campaign.
There are no known images of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, but here is a picture of a piece of her jewelry. It gives you a sense of the elite, wealthy class that she occupied. To put another way — this jewel-encrusted brooch gives you a sense of what slave labor could buy. So great was the hunger for the wealth produced by a bonded population in Charleston in the 1740’s, the slave traders could barely keep up with demand (they got rich, too, by the way). In those days, as rice cultivation was in full sway and markets remained relatively favorable, Carolina was known for as a place of ‘easy wealth’ — which is a little like Thomas Jefferson asserting that the harder he worked, the luckier he got!
Yesterday, I came across a fantastic web page about Eliza Lucas Pinckney, located on the Clemson University website. There is a picture of one of her descendants and one of her garments. The page focuses on indigo, the African contribution to the science and success of the commodity, and includes details about a few of ELP’s bondsmen that I had yet to come across.
Two of my readers recommended Patricia Klindienst’s “The Earth Knows My Name. Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic Americans.” It looks fascinating, and I know from what reader Jacqui Holmes shared with me in an email yesterday, that it includes some specifics about Eliza’s experiences with indigo (none of which was news to me, however).
The other book that recently came to my attention is Andrea Feeser’s “Red, White, and Black Make Blue. Indigo in the Fabric of Colonial South Carolina Life.”* I’ve just ordered it.
* * *
On another note, I did a quick run to Salem this morning. It was a good visit and traffic was a breeze driving back, but I always come home a little spent. I really ought to walk away from the screen, drink water, and sew in front of a fan for a while, but first: a mini-rant.
My sister tried to convince me that Irish immigrants had it just as bad as African slaves. (This comes up with obnoxious frequency in various online forums, too).
No, no, and No! I answered back.
My ancestors were reviled, yes, faced prejudice and economic hardship, yes… and what the English did to the Irish during the potato famine but some accounts constituted genocide. But there are so many, many differences.
Even, knowing, as I do, how terribly the Irish were treated in the mid-eighteenth century (in many cases, by the way, by the same landowners who were abusing and exploiting their bond men and women), even having read letters by Southern mistresses asserting that they’d prefer ‘a lazy Negro to a slovenly Irish girl, any day of the week’, even having read how sometimes Southern landowners employed the Irish for brutally exhausting labors specifically to avoid working AN ASSET (i.e. an African American bondsman) to death, even learning, as I did yesterday, that Catholicism was outlawed in the colony in this period.
Not the same at all. All one has to do is go 100 years forward to recognize how race carries a stigma unknown by any white-skinned immigrant groups.
Again (again!), I named the recent Atlantic magazine article, “The Case for Reparations” (by Ta-Nehisi Coates) (I am thinking of making my boys’ second term tuitions contingent on reading this article). You could not possibly digest that article and believe for a second that blacks and certain white immigrant groups got the same kind or degree of raw deals.
And speaking of being descended from Irish immigrants, two of whom were not here during the 250 years of slavery, Ta-Nehisi Coates specifically condemns taking the view that because our particular ancestors were not here during the ignominious slave years of American history, we are somehow exempt. We are not exempt. Half my family tree was probably near-to starving in County Cork in the antebellum years. I am not exempt. And even though my paternal great-grandfather fought for the Union, I am not exempt (or is it great-great?).
As a white American, how could I be exempt?
(I just ordered Coates’s memoir — big time spender here. ANOTHER reason to walk away from the screen).
* Book cover image used with permission of Clemson University
When I found out about a three-day indigo forum in Charleston, South Carolina this coming September, I practically jumped out of my seat. I didn’t even go to the impracticality of the opportunity given its price… just reveled in the notion of a free and clear calendar.
How different to consider a pricey tuition than to anticipate the juggling of school and doctors’ appointments and meals and well, you know, parenting!
Check it out: Sea Island Indigo Workshop.
Here is the revised and nearly complete “Fool”. I let the underlying blue paper serve as mountains, instead of the cut-out denim I had originally. And I replaced the sad-eyed basset with the black and white mutt you see below. I was happy to find this dog — it so nearly mimics the one depicted in the Rider deck. The Rider deck will be my prime source, by the way.
In terms of synchronicity — I was cutting out the suitcase, wondering whether I would find a good rose (something I considered essential for the card), when I flipped over the page and found the one you see there!
All that remains is to add title and number and make color xerox at proper size. And maybe revise the sun rays. What do you think? Too hokey? Inconsistent with the rest?
“If the only prayer you say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it would be enough.”
That shell and that driftwood came from Sullivan’s Island, SC. On the beach, which oddly reminded me very much of Martha’s Vineyard, I could look out to the east, knowing that Africa lay beyond the horizon. I wondered how many ‘recent slave imports’ did exactly that. I wondered what mix of bewilderment, rage, defeat, and sadness they might have felt. I acknowledged how little idea they had of what lay ahead.
Sullivan’s Island is where slaves coming into the port of Charleston were quarantined for a few weeks before being taken to the auction block. During the very busy slave importation years of the late 18th century, yellow fever, malaria, and small pox repeatedly and vengefully swept through the Lowlands. Any slave sick enough to die within the quarantine period was allowed to do so. It is heartrending to learn that a ten percent loss of cargo (read: African life) was deemed an acceptable margin in the slave trading business.
With the obvious aim of fattening them up for sale, the Africans were fed better during quarantine than at any time during the Middle Passage. They were groomed, oiled, and if plagued by dysentery (but not sick enough to die), plugged up temporarily with whittled corn cobs. If punished, they were paddled rather than whipped, for welts on the back signaled a wayward, unmanageable African, and would reduce his value on the block. There are reports of the sailors miming monkeys scratching their underarms to get the Africans to wash themselves. There isn’t much you can read about this island’s history without feeling sick.
There is no memorial. Toni Morrison saw to changing that. See images of the Memorial Bench here. [Update: just learned on a website called African American Charleston that in 1999, “On July 3, a 6-foot historical marker is placed on Sullivan’s Island near Fort Moultrie to honor those enslaved Africans who arrived in bondage via Charleston Harbor.”
Right before I went to SC, I heard a sliver of coverage about how much slaves contributed to the building of the ivy league schools in the Northeast. Maybe it was a review of the following book by Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivory: Race, Slavery, & the Troubled History of America’s Universities:
Many of America’s revered colleges and universities—from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to Rutgers, Williams College, and UNC—were soaked in the sweat, the tears, and sometimes the blood of people of color. The earliest academies proclaimed their mission to Christianize the savages of North America, and played a key role in white conquest. Later, the slave economy and higher education grew up together, each nurturing the other. Slavery funded colleges, built campuses, and paid the wages of professors. Enslaved Americans waited on faculty and students; academic leaders aggressively courted the support of slave owners and slave traders. Significantly, as Wilder shows, our leading universities, dependent on human bondage, became breeding grounds for the racist ideas that sustained them.
[from the Amazon page selling his book].
So — for the beautiful quads that populate this neck of the woods, with their stone edifices, filigreed ironworks, brick walkways, and carved doors: thank you slaves. Thank you.
It sounds lame to read this back. But how much MORE lame would it be never to say ‘thank you’. I am deciding to trust Meister Eckhart on this one.