There is a good reason The Quilt Show chose Charleston, SC as a location for filming – it’s gorgeous! I woke up in a very classy boutique hotel and had a yummy breakfast in a dining room where a quick glance upward left me gawking and reaching for my camera.
The day started early – getting everything put together and loaded into hubby’s little sporty car (“my” mini-van stays wherever the kids are) and off we went to the…
“Magnolia Plantation. 1676
Fountainhead of the Drayton family, which played so important a part in America’s Colonial, Revolutionary, and Independence history… It remains a working plantation utilizing scores of workers, and is still owned and operated by a direct family descendent.”
There is no mention on this historical marker of the civil war and that nine out of ten people living on the plantation were enslaved. It’s a fabulous thing that the many people working on site now are all there voluntary! The one mention of slavery I saw in the garden signage (it uses the euphemism “plantation workers”) says that conditions working the rice fields that were the main crop of this economy were “less than ideal.” Um. Right.
There are however, some really cool things about this Plantation that I haven’t seen in too many other southern historical sites. There is a new “From Slavery to Freedom” tour that highlights several restored slave cabins. Other plantations I’ve been to pretend they never existed. Their advertising literature says “Magnolia recognizes the importance of acknowledging the vital role that Gullah people and culture plays in any interpretation of Lowcountry history. By addressing this often overlooked part of the region’s narrative, Magnolia seeks to respectfully afford credit where credit is due.” Well done!
The Magnolia Plantation Foundation of Charleston, SC sponsors the Lowcountry Africana Website which catalogs and documents the cultural heritage of African Americans in the region. It’s an amazingly deep genealogical and historical resource.
Click here to read an excerpt of an amazing ancestral story of Leah Ruth-Warner, an enslaved woman who worked on a smaller plantation in the area. It is from Anita Wills second book, “Pieces of the Quilt: The Mosaic of An African American Family,” a Non-Fiction Narrative of African American History. (available through Amazon.com)
Two other cool things, one of the two Plantation home guides was a young African American woman – I’m pretty sure she was the one The Quilt Show interviewed for their location segment. I was off unloading way too much stuff and sweet talking a guy with a golf cart to help me schlep it to my filming site.
I also spent time talking with another fine man, Herb Frazier – who is the public relations and marketing manager for the plantation, who sparked more of my interest in the area’s history. I later purchased his book, “Behind God’s Back: Gullah Memories” which I found to be a wonderful history. But then – I’ve always been very interested in the every day working people that make society function. It looks like the Plantation actually is interested in telling the WHOLE history of the place. It’s fascinating!
If you are still reading I’m impressed – this is my longest post in a very long time. So here – a pretty picture to keep you going. When I walked into the gardens spring was just beginning to nudge itself into color here and there. Spanish moss and pink blossoms mixed against a brilliant (and quite chilly) blue sky.
The Gardens are indeed delightful – even without a riot of color and bloom. Walking down a tree tunneled path that opens up into a watery vista is enchanting.
But… I choked a bit when I read this garden placard saying that John Drayton was reduced to extreme poverty after I saw the house he “built”.
The war deprived him of hundreds of forcibly enslaved people to shovel and manicure his gardens, plant and hoe and grow his rice, cook his food. Slavery had allowed his family lived in luxury. You should see the silver place settings in the dining room. I wonder if he actually laid a single brick in this house born of his extreme poverty.
I wonder what happened after emancipation. We often don’t spend much time learning the history of reconstruction. While Mr. Drayton’s family struggled through their “extreme poverty” in this poor little shack – I wonder how many of his slaves were able to leave for the North and the few opportunities there, or how many lived out their lives as sharecroppers – being “free” to continue working a little bit of land. Still mostly for the benefit of landlords.
All that said, it really was interesting to tour the home. It was truly lovely and there were beautiful pictures of the Drayton family displayed there. Our guides were delightful and we got to go behind the ropes and take a close look at this beautifully made quilt – one of the oldest I’ve ever seen (1800’s? I wish I had written it down!) And just to set your mind at ease – the windows have a UV coating so that bright light isn’t damaging the delicate fabric.
If the tour had fully acknowledged the fact that this economy and lifestyle was made possible by forced labor maybe I could have gone through simply appreciating the very complex history that our country has.
Too often we don’t ask ourselves the hard questions… the why’s and the how come’s and the what thens. If more people felt free to question instead of being afraid to confront and learn from the many mistakes of our past I think we’d be in a better place, and I think this is one of the most amazing places in the world as it is. I honestly don’t think it’s unpatriotic to question our past or our present or our leaders. Without an honest look at where we’ve come from and what we are doing now, we are abrogating our civic duty. We could do it openly, honestly, and with true and gentle intentions for working together. If we could listen to all sides, understand other points of view – all of our lives would be richer and our country would be stronger.
OK – I had no idea this would turn into that. I’ll lay off the sermonizing now – except about topics art related.
If you made it all the way through here – I’d love, love, love to hear your feedback, your thoughts, your questions.