Part Two

Hi all!

I’ll make this one brief. Internships are still progressing but drawing toward their ends. In the museum, we’ve just gotten the nod from the GGCHC Commissioners on our final drafts of the exhibit panels. They’re currently going to print and will soon be installed alongside the basket, concluding the first phase of a project that will hopefully continue to grow, even after we’ve left for the summer. After finishing that up, the other interns and I are looking at what to do next. We’re getting started on another mini-exhibit about Horry County indigenous medicine, trying to find and incorporate information about alternative medicine practiced by the Gullah. Although our time is limited – only two weeks left already! – we hope to at least make some headway.

Meanwhile, I’ve been moving into the final stages of my internship at the City Planning Department. I’m presenting my findings at the City Council meeting next Monday. Overall, I wish I’d been able to find more information that could be useful to the City, but after processing all my notes I’ll at least be able to leave them with a summary of what I’ve found and where the community can go from here. Most of the relevant material I’ve come up with mainly concerns other parts of the county, but since Conway is the seat of Horry County, there are some connections to Gullah history further south; there’s also potential Gullah presence in the footprints of old plantations in Conway’s environs, although I’ve had a difficult time trying to establish that link.

Oral histories have finally taken flight in the last few weeks. Commissioner Gerald did a two-part workshop with our group, helped us develop questions, and is supervising us as we go and talk to people throughout the county. It’s gratifying to know that, with every conversation, we are actively preserving history and becoming a part of a previously untold narrative. I’m also touched that I have been able to learn from the wisdom of people like Ms. Laura Grate, 106, who counts innumerable friends among her “children,” including Billy, Kaighn and me.

While not in the office, library, museum, or someone’s home, we’ve continued to keep ourselves entertained. Just yesterday, Chaarushi and I took a day trip to the sea islands near the charming lowcountry town of Beaufort. (Everyone else missed out!) The drive was well worth it. We stopped at the Penn Center, a historic site on St. Helena Island that originally served as an industry and agriculture school for emancipated Gullah slaves during and after the Civil War. Through the years it continued to serve historic purposes, including as a meeting location for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference under Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Chaarushi and I toured the on-site museum, which houses information about the Penn Center, grass baskets made by Penn School students, and other artifacts. Unfortunately the rest of the grounds didn’t seem to be in condition for touring. From there, we continued along the Sea Island Parkway, passing at least one small prayer house and streets with names like “DEGULLAH.” We made it as far as Hunting Island before turning around and heading back toward the mainland, and we even got a unique angle on the landscape while crossing a swing bridge; the center span of the bridge turned to let a fishing boat pass, leaving us conveniently stopped and able to appreciate the sweeping view of pristine tidal marshes as far as the eye could see. We even spotted a dolphin–hope he knew where he was going! On the way back we stopped in Charleston, as we had done briefly while heading to Beaufort; after a walk around the vibrant downtown, we got dinner at a Thai restaurant called Basil, of which I definitely approve. Earlier in the morning we had browsed the City Market, where, after much searching, I found a price I was willing to pay for some Gullah sweetgrass baskets to take home. Definitely a trip to remember.

Speaking of baskets, the group got to try our hands at Gullah basket weaving a couple of Fridays ago. Under the tutelage of Ms. Vera Manigault (http://www.observertoday.com/page/content.detail/id/563282/Passing-on-a-tradition.html?nav=5047), we spent a relaxing four hours carefully threading, wrapping and coiling assorted grasses into the craft that has become one of the most widely recognized representations of Gullah culture. I admired and envied my colleagues, who made bigger, neater baskets, but I was ultimately satisfied with my finished product and, above all, grateful to have been able to learn. Also, thanks to Quinn’s water bottle and Suqi’s camera, I can now prove that I have taken a course in under-water basket weaving.

So, there you have it: the latest from my summer in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. More soon!

 

The starter--too complex for me.

The starter–too complex for me.

Sweetgrass on the left; pine straw, for decorative flair, on the right.

Sweetgrass on the left; pine straw, for decorative flair, on the right.

100_8920

Wrapping the coils together with "mada," strands of palmetto leaf.

Wrapping the coils together with “mada,” strands of palmetto leaf.

Voila!

Voila!

Penn Center Museum, St. Helena Island, SC

Penn Center Museum, St. Helena Island, SC

100_8929 100_8932 100_8935 100_8937 100_8943 100_8944 100_8945 100_8946 100_8947 100_8949 100_8951

Hunting Island, SC

Hunting Island, SC

Stuck!

Stuck!

100_8958

Dolphin!

Dolphin!

100_8965 100_8967 100_8969 100_8970 100_8971

Beaufort

Beaufort

Charleston

Charleston

Library in Downtown Charleston

Library in Downtown Charleston

Dinner at Basil - Charleston, SC

Dinner at Basil – Charleston, SC

King Street, Charleston, SC

King Street, Charleston, SC

Dinner at the McIvers' home

Dinner at the McIvers’ home

Underwater Basketweaving

Underwater Basketweaving

 

Where has the time gone???

Howdy all!

I must start by apologizing that I haven’t posted in a very long while. I’m happy to say that it’s an indication of four weeks well lived! Although by now I’ve figured out that I simply don’t have the time to write out a reflection of every experience, I do want to share some of the highlights of these first few weeks of the summer. Hard to believe we’re almost at the half-way point!

My internship at the City of Conway’s Planning Department is off to a good start. I’ve been combing through newspaper articles and books about Horry County, reviewing decades-old volumes of the Independent Republic Quarterly (the Horry County Historical Society’s publication), and consulting people who know the area and its history. My supervisor, Michael, is really nice and got me started on research with some books and a contact through his wife. Although I haven’t yet gotten to do any oral history interviews with Gullah people, I’m hoping to be able to do so in the future, as it could add an enlightening personal dimension to the history we’re trying to uncover. I’ve also made a preliminary presentation to the Planning Commission, explaining why I’m here and what it is I hope to accomplish. So far, the biggest challenge has been finding the link between Gullah culture and Conway. Certainly there is an African American presence in Conway and Gullah presence in Horry County, but I’m having difficulty finding the connection between Gullah culture and the City of Conway (apart from Conway’s geographic location within the Corridor).

Meanwhile, Rifat, Tom, Zack and I have made some good progress over at the Horry County Museum. After a few days on the job, and with the help of our supervisor, Walter, we were fortunate enough to find a basket in the museum’s storage collection which was made in the distinctive West African method of coiling. Thanks to a document about its donation found in the Independent Republic Quarterly, we were able to confirm that the basket was made by a slave on a plantation here in Horry County (we believe in Socastee), and was used to winnow rice. The basket’s rivergrass composition demonstrates its clear connection to Horry County, where rivergrass was a much more abundant resource than the sweetgrass found in baskets made downriver near the sea islands. This discovery set the tone for the first phase of our exhibit on local Gullah culture. We collected information and images and created first drafts of several display panels about the Gullah culture and sweetgrass basket weaving, focusing on those topics’ specific connection to this area. The basket, which has already been mounted and prepared for display, will be the centerpiece of the exhibit. In addition to working on the exhibit, we’ve also been helping with various moving tasks as the museum transitions into the old Burroughs School building. I spent the other day helping Walter classify arrowheads from a massive collection someone had donated. Overall, I feel that we’re doing really fulfilling, worthwhile work here.

Of course, service-based internships account for a big part of our time this summer, but they’re anything but the whole story. In the afternoons and on the weekends, we enjoy just hanging out together: hitting the beach, watching movies, cooking and eating together, and even finding time for a few day trips. We’ve been to the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival down in Mount Pleasant and toured Brookgreen Gardens in Murrells Inlet. The animal lovers among us (myself emphatically not included) even found a shelter in Georgetown to visit.

This past week, several community members welcomed small groups of us into their homes for a few nights. Kaighn, Billy and I had the honor of becoming part of Rev. Cedric Blain Spain’s extended family, as he so kindly said. We talked and shared meals with many of his friends and family, including the first black Horry County sheriff’s deputy (who said he would choose not to do it all over again, so painfully unfair was his treatment); Conway’s first black dentist; Conway Councilwoman Barbara Jo Blain-Olds; and Mother Laura Grate, age 106 and still going strong. Cedric also showed us around some of Conway’s predominantly black neighborhoods, as well as Atlantic Beach, a tiny enclave in North Myrtle that was once the only beach in South Carolina open to black people (and which, sadly, is now plagued by political instability and the deterioration of its unique cultural identity). A photograph of Cedric with President Obama and lots of Democratic National Convention paraphernalia revealed that I was staying with the county delegate to the state Democratic Party! Getting to know Cedric and his relatives was such a wonderful experience, and I’ll always be grateful to be part of the extended family.

So, there you have it: a brief summary of my activities and experiences here so far. Like I said, although I feel nicely established here, it’s weird to think that four out of nine weeks have already flown by. And with that, it’s time to start another week…

River Otter

River Otter

Oaks & Spanish Moss

Oaks & Spanish Moss at Brookgreen

Gator Weirdo bird America

Rice field

Rice field

Rice trunk

Rice trunk

100_8853

Brookgreen

Baskets for sale

Gullah baskets for sale at the Sweet Grass Festival

Basket

Orientation

Note: Sorry this post is way behind. I would blame the lack of WiFi in the apartments, but in truth we’ve just always been up and going and I haven’t had much time to process my thoughts after jotting them down every night. More to come soon on my adventures this past week!

On Wednesday the 15th around noon, I hugged my parents goodbye and hit the road for Conway. Most of my packing was already done, as I had simply not unpacked in the two weeks I had been home from college. Hey, once in a while, laziness does pay. The drive wasn’t bad, probably because I bypassed most of Myrtle Beach, and the weather was sunny and gorgeous all the way – just the kind I’d been dreaming about for nearly this whole past semester. I arrived in Conway in the early afternoon, greeted by a few of my friends who were already getting settled in, as well as by even more heat and humidity than had I left in Wilmington (though after visiting the desert this spring, I’m not going to complain).

The apartments we’re housed in are clean, relatively new, and huge, especially compared to my dorm room in Blackwell this past year. (Shout-out to Jenny, our awesome Associate Director, for getting the maintenance people to fix my chirping smoke alarm, thus preserving my last few shreds of sanity!) I’m sharing a 2-bedroom apartment with Billy. The neighborhood is comically cookie-cutter–there are about two dozen completely symmetrical, exactly alike buildings scattered around a retention pond–but it’s pretty quiet, with sidewalks and trees on the periphery. My only real complaint so far is that WiFi is virtually unusable, so weak and intermittent is the signal. Hopefully this will be fixed soon. Overall, a pretty nice place to live.

Once everyone had arrived, we headed over to the Activities House for some pizza and a chat about living together, general business, and our schedule for the next couple of weeks. We also got to wish Jenny a happy BN birthday (a few days late, which is right on schedule for us), and to meet Conswella, our site coordinator for the summer. Afterward, several of us went to WalMart to get some household items for our apartments. When we returned, we watched He’s Just Not That Into You together, our first movie night of the summer. I was fighting a headache and drowsiness the entire time; I think moving in and disturbing the dust may have aggravated my allergies.

Thursday morning, we had another meeting about our plans for the summer. In the afternoon, we headed over to the county government center for the Horry County Historic Preservation Awards. It was a relatively brief ceremony honoring various agencies (and their people) in the community who work for historical preservation. The vast majority of these dealt with cemeteries, prompting me to reflect more on the importance of preserving life stories. Although a headstone can provide some important genealogical information (as well as Veteran status, which was consistently noted in the presentation), it can scarcely begin to tell of its referent’s major life experiences. Cemeteries are reminders that our time to tell our stories, much like our time to live them, is limited, adding to the sense of importance with which I view our documentation work here (particularly with regard to oral histories). Something else I noticed in the presentation was that what I know as the Civil War was always referred to as the Confederate War, perhaps indicating a different perspective on that unfortunate part of history than the one I’m used to. The ways we choose to entitle our histories can certainly speak to our construals of them. This is something I’ll have to bear in mind when doing research here.

Immediately after the ceremony, we followed Walter Hill to the old Burroughs School, which is where the Horry County Museum, where I’ll be working to create an exhibit on local Gullah heritage, is currently moving. Walter Hill, my supervisor, gave us a tour of the premises – we got to see the galleries in progress, the artifact storage room, and the auditorium. The museum showcases the history, prehistory and natural history of Horry County (which has historically been known as the “Independent Republic” for its isolation early in its existence as a County). Walter explained how this area, and much of the South in general (except for places like Charleston), has found historical preservation difficult. Buildings here, like the Burroughs School, historically have not been built with big money, high-quality materials or the intention of permanence. We’ve always been replacing them with newer, bigger, flashier buildings. Thankfully, this building will be an exception to that rule.

Walter also said something that jumped out at me as we all stood on the stage of the auditorium: “Most people don’t really know what a museum is.” He discussed how kids might come in thinking that a museum is a place about dinosaur fossils, or how adults might come in and expect to see artwork. In reality, he said, a museum can be a keeper of any number of different things. Walter’s first statement kept me thinking. What is the essence of a museum? I wondered to myself if museum is derived from the word muse. I later looked it up: my dictionary (i.e. Dictionary.com) lists the origin of the word as Latin for “place sacred to the Muses”. So perhaps, using one definition of “muse”, a museum can be defined as a place where people go to be inspired. I can only wonder how I’ll be inspired by what I find at the museum this summer, and I’m glad that Walter asked that simple question now so that I have a better idea of what my job is with the exhibit.

Upon finishing the tour of the museum, we had about an hour before we were due at the L.W. Paul Living History Farm (an arm of the Museum) for a reception of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. The timing couldn’t have been better – right as we arrive in Conway, the Commission gathers for a meeting here. In our free hour, some of us went back to the apartments while others, myself included, went to look for a cup of coffee. We found it at J&J Cafeteria, a charming restaurant established in 1955. I was immediately enamored by the character of the place – friendly waitstaff who encouraged us to “come make [our]selves at home,” authentic wall decorations with the themes of cars, farms and this wonderful town, and generations of diners enjoying each other’s company. It seems to be a favorite of the locals’, and I expect that it will be one of ours, too.

At 7, just as the sun was setting, we met at the Farm for a dinner of Pirlo (sp.?), a dish containing rice and meat that Walter had told us about, to welcome the commissioners. Several were there, including Ron Daise and Veronica Gerald, who was a pleasure to finally meet (she’s a professor at Coastal Carolina and one of our key contacts in the area). I also met Mayor Allys Lawson and Michael Leinwand (who will be my supervisor at the City Planning Department) and a bunch of other great folks. Dinner was good – teamed up with fellow vegetarian Chaarushi, and we made it through the line just fine since everything was self-serve. I had potato salad and cornbread for dinner, with banana pudding for dessert. The Pirlo and gumbo both looked really good, though. Sat at a picnic table outside with 4 other BNs, plus a guy from Conway (whose name regrettably escapes me at the moment) and Sylvia, a commissioner from my wonderful hometown of Wilmington who used to teach at Hanover and Hoggard but is now retired. After dinner we looked around the farm a little. I guess we could call tonight our first immersive Gullah experience.

When we got back to the apartments, I found that I had to take a shower before bed because I felt so sticky from the heat and humidity outside. It feels like we’ve been here so much longer than a day and a half already, and yet I know this summer will be over before I know it. I’m already in love with this place.

Friday morning, we attended the Commission meeting at Cherry Hill Baptist Church in Conway. Much of the morning consisted of the commissioners handling their more mundane business items, but after a few hours they announced that the Management Plan, a longtime work in progress, had been officially approved by the Secretary of the Interior–a huge milestone. Shortly thereafter, our group made a brief presentation about why we’re here and what we’re doing, explaining how each of our internships supported the main goals of the newly-approved Management Plan: Education, Preservation/Documentation and Economic Development. The few people who have been cold to the Corridor’s partnership with us seem to be thawing; a number of people who had serious objections have grown to embrace it. Commissioner Clark addressed our group, explaining how he had spoken extensively with another commissioner who had been adamantly opposed to our group partnering with the corridor and how she had come to be in full support of us. It all functioned as a good pep talk before we start our internships. It’s truly humbling to know there are already people here who believe in us so much.

We had lunch at the commission meeting–pirlo, gumbo, fried and baked chicken, green beans (with pork), cornbread and collards. Thus, it was one of the more difficult meals for me to negotiate so far; fortunately, my fellow vegetarian Chaarushi and I are still teaming up at meals like these, so at least I don’t have to awkwardly explain myself alone.

Following lunch, we came back to the apartments and had a final group meeting to share our perceptions of the community and the overall feel here up to this point. We discussed how the community is receiving us: the general consensus is that most of the people we’re getting to know are as happy as we are that we’re here, which is a huge blessing. Then we said farewell to Jenny and had some down time in the afternoon. I went grocery shopping with Quinn. Food is expensive! In the evening we all gathered in one of the upstairs rooms to start of something called “interviews” that Julianna is asking us all to do–basically, one person tells his or her entire life story, and then the rest of us can ask questions at the end. First up was Zack tonight; each of us will eventually get a turn. I think this will be a good way to get to know each other better, although it does have the potential to get exhausting (which has everything to do with the sheer length of time required to tell anyone’s life story). It will also be good practice for documenting community members’ oral histories.

On Saturday morning, we split into two groups of seven for a tour of Conway as seen from the Waccamaw River. I went on the 10:00 tour with Chaarushi, Suqi, Alyssa, Rifat, Billy and Kaighn. And our knowledgeable guide, Captain Jim, of course. It was a very relaxing ride on the 21-foot electric boat down the Waccamaw as well as onto Kingston Lake and into cypress-covered creeks and backwaters draped with spanish moss. Jim kept talking about all the snakes (including water moccasins) and alligators in the water and creeping around the trees; I leaned in a little further under the boat’s roof every time he mentioned them. We saw several magnificent old homes along the river, guarded by the soaring live oaks known locally as “Conway’s oldest citizens”.

Once the tour was over, we went on a self-guided walking tour of downtown. First we stopped at Dr. Veronica Gerald’s store, Ultimate Gullah, across the street from the Visitors’ Center and Kingston Presbyterian Church. Then we decided to look around in search of lunch. On the way to nowhere in particular, we stumbled upon the farmers’ market, which was still open but clearing out for the day. I bought some all natural, eco-friendly soap that has a really interesting design with several colorful planet-like spheres. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised to find this kind of hippie-ish product in a small town in South Carolina; sometimes I worry that I bring prejudices into places that are different from the one where I grew up, and it’s so nice when those are disproven as I get to actually know a place. Anyhow, buying the soap still made me feel bad for turning down the nice lady who was selling goat milk soap just across the market, even though goats just gross me out. But hey, I guess they call it a market for a reason. Continuing around Conway, we ate at the K.C. Deli (and give it our seal of approval). As we continued walking we noticed all the “sweaters” knitted onto the trees. All are brightly colored and add some flair to downtown; some have more elaborate decorations, like monkeys, flowers, ladybugs, birds’ nests, you name it. We even found some umbrella stands that had these sweaters, disproving our early hypothesis that they were intended to keep the trees warm. (Kidding. Kind of.) Suqi and I looked in a quiet small-town department store called Abrams, which has an extensive stock of Southern Tide, Barbie collectibles and Department 56 merchandise. I hope that the fact that this kind of place can still thrive in Conway is an indication of a healthy downtown commercial environment.

In the afternoon we came back to the apartments for a while. Some of us went to the Blue Crab Festival all the way out in Little River–I passed on that one. In the meantime, I went with Alyssa, Suqi and Chaarushi to Kroger for WiFi (internet still doesn’t work here in the apartments). I wrote home and started setting up the blog, and then Chaarushi and I walked around the store, which felt like it was about five degrees above freezing. We decided to make West African Ground Nut Stew–one of my favorite recipes that I got from my mom–and bought what I thought was all the necessary ingredients I didn’t have. After getting back to cook and a couple of extra trips to the store, I think we pulled it off pretty well. (For my part, I ate the heck out of it.) My hope is to make it as a group meal some time. Billy’s and my apartment was this afternoon’s hub of activity for dinner, puzzle assembly, Bananagrams and conversations. After things had settled down a bit I finally got to call home for a little while and update the folks. Then we went to a showing of Star Trek: Into Darkness, which was fun, even though I’ve never seen Star Trek.

Sunday morning, we all went to church at St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist on the other side of Conway. This is where Conswella goes; she was there with her husband, Aaron, and their almost-two-year-old daughter. I had privately been having reservations about the BNs all going to church together; many in the group are not religious, and I don’t think there’s anyone who is Missionary Baptist. I feared that our attendance would therefore be somewhat spurious. A church is quite inherently sacred to its members, and the fact that today’s worship would hold varyingly lesser degrees of significance for each member of our group bothered me. I think church should be something we go to because we believe there is something spiritual to find there. I didn’t want us to go in as if we were there to study the people and their rituals like specimens, which would seem to me to desecrate that worship experience. In actuality, though, I was relieved to find that the church service wasn’t nearly so uncomfortable. Shortly beforehand, the job of explaining why we are here to the congregation was reassigned to me, and at the beginning of the service we all went to the front of the sanctuary and Tom and I spoke briefly (helped by Conswella). A few congregants spoke up and expressed gratitude that we are here; one woman recognized us from the commission meeting on Friday. When we sat down, the preacher began to speak, wearing an unequivocally joyful expression on his face. Surveying the congregation, he declared that it was how the Kingdom of Heaven would look– “all these different kinds of faces”. I was so glad to feel so welcome and accepted that I stopped questioning the authenticity of the experience.

After church, which was almost two hours, we went to a nearby fish place called Freshwater, a small place with a heart-stopping array of fried foods. Chaarushi and I got grilled cheeses. I heard Conswella’s husband mention that he is a vegetarian, which is pretty neat, and also means that Conswella probably knows how to negotiate vegetarian challenges here–definitely a plus. At the restaurant, we said farewell to Charlie, thus ending our orientation here. Now it’s time for the real deal.

The afternoon was pretty free. Tomorrow I start my internship at the City of Conway’s Planning Department. Orientation has gone really well, and I already feel like I’ve learned so much. So far, I’m having a great time!

Welcome!

Hi everyone!

Welcome to my blog, where I’ll be chronicling the events of my summer. My hope is that I can write as often as possible without drawing time away from the unique experiences in store. First, let me explain just what it is I’m up to.

As a Benjamin N. Duke Scholar at Duke University, I’m fortunate to be provided with some incredibly awesome summer opportunities. The first of these is the Carolina Summer of Service, in which I live with my 13 fellow scholars in the Class of 2016 somewhere in the Carolinas. During our time here, we work on projects designed to serve the community we visit using the skills we each possess. Then, over the next two summers, we will each receive funding to individually design and implement our own projects, literally anywhere in the world. I’ll grant that living in a small town in South Carolina may at first sound underwhelming compared to the exotic destinations and revered institutions to which so many of my friends are headed this summer, but in truth, this experience can be just as impactful and meaningful as any other, and is integral to the broader philosophy of the B.N. Duke program. Our director, Dr. Charlie Thompson, calls this philosophy “grounded globalism”: Being intimately in touch with who we are and the place we come from (all of us were selected from North and South Carolina), even as we travel to the far corners of the world in hopes of making it a better place. It’s my belief that having these firm roots in our hometowns and in our close relationships with each other as we branch out across the globe will help us to understand, achieve and give all that we can.

This year, for the first time, the Carolina Summer of Service is in Conway, South Carolina. We are initiating a partnership with the federally established Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, and are pleased to be the first university group of our kind to engage in such a partnership. Consequently, each of us has one or two public service-oriented internships in Conway or the surrounding area, and each of these internships supports at least one of the three goals of the Corridor: preservation and documentation of Gullah Geechee culture; education about the culture; and economic development for the Gullah people. I will be working for the City of Conway in the Planning Department, where I will research Gullah history in Conway and develop recommendations for ways that local Gullah heritage can be incorporated into the Cultural Resources Element of the City Plan. I will also be working with several other B.N. Duke Scholars in the Horry County Museum, where we will work on creating an exhibit about Gullah culture in the area. We will be living in apartments on the campus of Coastal Carolina University during our time here, which will last from mid-May to late July.

Needless to say, I’m so excited for what lies ahead this summer. This blog will be a way for me to write about and reflect upon my experiences here, as well as a medium for sharing what I’m up to. Thanks for reading!