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.
Lyric Art — The Quilt Show with Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims (and me!)November 26, 2013 at 11:22 am
[…] the Magnolia Plantation. You can read a little bit of my thoughts and feelings about the plantation here. I was also able to visit the Angel Oak, the most massively beautiful tree I’ve ever been […]
Amy @ Amy's Free Motion Quilting AdventuresApril 16, 2013 at 2:11 pm
Wow Lyric, I came to your site today to get a little quilty inspiration and some encouragement in being creative and you did that and a box of chocolates for this homeschooling mama! We’re doing early American history right now too.
Just so you know, you’ve been an inspiration to me ever since I read about you sewing standing up so you could be creative in the midst of raising your kids. Thanks!
lyricApril 8, 2013 at 1:04 am
Patty – I appreciate your comments and insights. I do feel the Magnolia Plantation did a FAR, FAR better job than any other white southern historical site I’ve visited at acknowledging the contribution of the slaves. I truly appreciate their efforts – it’s a really important part of our history that needs to be preserved.
I still, however, cannot feel that it is sugar coated and yes, I do understand that we can’t always judge the past by today’s cultural morals. We glamorize the life of the plantation owners and their “accomplishments.” And yes – emancipation was little better than slavery for many if not most blacks in America. The South did go from being rich to poor – although that is a misnomer. Only some of the white slave owners were rich to begin with. The “south” consisted of of mostly enslaved African Americans and many poor whites as well. I wouldn’t call that rich. That would be like saying our national economy right now is doing fabulously well – because wall street bankers are still pulling in their millions.
I’ve read several books since the trip – I love history – especially first person narratives. I love to try and get as close to original sources as possible. The slave narratives I read were WPA oral history projects transcribed in the 1930’s. Most of the surviving former slaves were in their 80’s and 90’s and they had been quite young when emancipated – usually under ten. The forward of the book pointed out several facts. 1 – The interviews were completed during the great depression when the sharecroppers interviewed were living under near starvation conditions so yes, looking back to a time when they were mostly fed and clothed looked better. 2 – The former slaves were still uneducated, and few had ever travelled to see what life was like outside of their immediate environment. It was their “kind” masters who made sure they were uneducated and unequipped for any life other than slavery. 3 – The interviewers were white. During slave times telling anyone that your master was unkind was grounds for whipping, or being sold away from your family. I can’t imagine it was much better around whites after the war. Especially considering that the 1920’s is when the KKK really ramped up their overtly violent activities. Just looking the wrong way at a white could get you lynched. In the interviews the former slaves would say their master was good – and in the same interview mention being whipped. Remember, they were young children at the time. Their “good” masters sanctioned the whipping of children.
I’ve also just read Frederick Douglass’ first memoir. The conditions it recounts were horrifying. Children under ten mostly naked with no blankets in the winter. Feeding the children mush out of troughs with no utensils and competing with the dogs. Women purchased as breeding stock – often raped by the master. He does an interesting thing and points out many specific ways in which the institution of slavery degrades the white owners as well.
So – I am humbled and truly amazed at those who survived this and many times kept their faith and their humanity intact. You mentioned that the South is still mostly poor today and part of that is the destruction of an economy based on the enslavement of others. We don’t look at Hitler’s capture and enslavement of the Jews and say that we have to understand it through the lens of today’s wisdom, education, and understanding of our day. We call it out for what it was. Pure evil. I see the two cultures as very much alike.
Look at it another way – African Americans STILL have lower education levels and income levels than whites do. Why?
We still have work to do and until we question and learn about and understand our WHOLE history it’s going to be difficult to grow and learn from it.
Thanks again Patty for your wonderful comments!
Patty ZApril 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm
Lyric, I enjoyed reading your blog, especially since Dennis & I just got back from there weekend before last. Your remarks about slavery were interesting, as we felt this plantation was so up front about giving credit to the slaves for all the work done, and having a tour of their homes. One of the slave homes still on the site belongs to one of the original workers, who just retired last year. He raised all 7 of his children in the little home, and shared his story as to what happened when emanicipation came. For him, he felt he was lucky to be able to continue on and work at the plantation after the Civil War. Most of the slaves were forced to leave, as the family could not afford to pay all the 100’s of workers that it was currently “employing.” He said many were happy to be free and headed North, but for most, he said it was bittersweet. This was all they had known, and their friends and families were all there at the plantation. Although they were not free prior to this, he said most felt like they had been treated well, considering the alternative. Many who left, ended up in abject poverty, not having the skills or education to do much more than work the rice fields which almost immediately went out of business. It is an interesting thing, to look back with the wisdom, education, and understanding of the year 2013 and try to make sense of a world from which we are so far removed. Slavery has existed since the beginning of time, not always race related, and is responsible for the building of more than one empire. Nothing can justify it in my mind, but what I find amazing is how resiliant the human spirit is. How, when you read the oral histories of so many slaves, they did not live day in and day out with their head hung down in misery. So many were able to rise above their sordid circumstances to live a life of gratitude for the blessing life did offer them. The music and histories of that time speak to hope and a strong belief in God. I find it incredible. Historically, although I don’t think this family was truly reduced to poverty(! that was quite the exaggeration!), the South in general, went from being the richest part of the land to be the poorest part of the land almost overnight. For the most part, that continues even today. As a region, they have the lowest rates of income, education, and upward mobility when you look at the nation as a whole. Anyway, I’m going on too long, (sorry!) but Dennis and I had lots of good coversations as we spent the day there walking the grounds, taking the swamp tour (did you see all the alligators!! – unbelievable the workers dealt with that too in addition to the threat of malaria!), and took the house tour. The guide we had in the main home paid homage to the slaves, and the work they did as well. We too, loved the quilts – the big one we were told took over 20 years to complete – sheesh, now that is dedication!
I’m glad you were able to go and do the quilt show, and thank you for your thought provoking remarks. 🙂