The Dignity of the Slave Cabin

“People without power are not without nobility.” – novelist, Ralph Ellison

Boone Hall Slave Cabins

Slave Streets. Small one room houses were built in rows, as quarters for slaves on plantations in the Carolinas. They were most likely of wood, with a fireplace for a kitchen and no indoor plumbing.

At Boone Hall there are nine original slave cabins still on the property that they were built between 1790 and 1810. Magnolia Plantation, too, has begun a marvelous project in the restoration of Magnolia’s slave cabins. D.J. Tucker and Preston Cooley visited Edisto Island recently to speak at the annual meeting of the History Museum. They are working, at Magnolia Plantation, to restore dignity to the people whose history has been previously untold. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

On Oct 1st Michael Twitty will visit Magnolia to “link the past to the present through food”. Certainly all the rice and gravy, okra, and cornbread I grew up eating, has its origins in the African American slave kitchens of the Lowcountry. Many of those kitchens, accorded to historian Michael Vlach, were the complete and private domain of the black cook. Plan to visit Magnolia on that weekend for the festivities and tours of their cabins. Magnolia has also teamed with Lowcountry Africana, and funded a marvelous website that lists many documents for slave descendants searching their family origins.

The Edisto Island Museum is now restoring two slave cabins on the island. Edisto was isolated from the mainland and is one of the islands that preserved the Gullah Culture and language because of the isolation.

Edisto Island Slave Cabin - photo by Clara C Mackenzie

There is much history yet to be discovered, and this feels like a hopeful beginning for us in the South Carolina Lowcountry. As we recognize and appreciate the hands that laid the bricks, forged the iron, and tilled the soil here, we may begin to see ourselves with more honest eyes, and with more communal spirit.

Reflecting on black experience in America, Ralph W. Ellison continued, “any people who could undergo such dismemberment and resuscitate itself, and endure until it could take the initiative in achieving its own freedom is obviously more than the sum of its brutalization.”

Michelle Obama, a child of the Gullah people of Georgetown, South Carolina is now the First Lady of the United States and lives in The White House. For me, the gentleness of the church going people who are my neighbors on Edisto Island is reason enough to shout this history from the rooftops.

I was called to be an artist. And as an old old midwife said to me "If the Lord wants you to do something, you won't have no good luck' til you do." So, here I am, sharing what I love, longing to illuminate the work of art, which is everywhere.

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Posted in architecture, art, Arts & Culture, Charleston South Carolina, creativity, Gullah, religion, South Carolina History, spirituality, travel
2 comments on “The Dignity of the Slave Cabin
  1. Very cool post. I’d love to hear more about those kitchens, and the food that came out of them, the origins of what we eat today in the South. You really need to read “Island Beneath the Sea” by Isabelle Allende about the slave revolution on Haiti.

    • Great idea Hadley. After next weekend when I go to Magnolia, I will write about the African American influences in the food we all eat in the South, today. Yum. And yes, Isabelle Allende’s book sounds like the kind of book I would really like. Haiti has always intrigued me. When you were a child growing up in Miami, the Haitian people were so gentle, and their country has had such hardship. Thank you!

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What’s this?

Welcome to my blog about the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a place proud with beauty, history and art. Sometimes we feel a call, to be, to go, to do. I was called to be an artist, and as an old midwife from Alabama said, “If the good Lord wants you to do something, you won’t have no good luck until you do it.”

So here I am writing about what I know, about the 'under glimmer' as the poet Basho, says, the way I have learned to see, to notice. I am inspired by, and talking about the history and art and culture of this place that has called me to herself. By the ancestors.

My background includes a degree in fine arts from a small private college in Florida, and before that, four years of all girls' boarding school in Asheville. I worked as a professional photographer, helped my children grow up, and now and I love seasoned things, good food, better conversation, beauty, my beloved and beautiful Italian Greyhound, Beau. Moved by the sacred places and stories of this beautiful historic land called the Lowcountry, I am here in spirit and I hope to infect you with my love of this place.

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