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The first stay for the Slave Dwelling Project in 2013 was a repeat stay at Hopsewee Plantation on Friday, March 1.
Located on the North Santee River in Georgetown County, SC, my familiarity with the property and this being my 39th overnight stay in a slave dwelling made me comfortable with trying new things for the project. The property owners, Frank and Raejean Beattie got creative in planning the details of the stay once again proving their whole-hearted support.
One constant in both stays would be an event planned around dinner. Raejean and staff again showcased their zeal, ability and love of cooking for on the menu was shrimp and grits; chicken gumbo; field peas; okra and tomatoes; macaroni and cheese; pineapple casserole; pimento cheese biscuits and bread pudding.
The room was full to capacity and included guests from as far away as Chicago, Illinois and Mystic Sea Port, Connecticut who came specifically because of the program that owners Frank and Raejean planned. During dinner, I had the opportunity to address the guests on the subject of the Slave Dwelling Project.
Given only ten minutes to present, I let the audience decide which of the twelve states of which I had spent a night in a former slave dwelling that I would talk about. Their choices were Alabama, Connecticut, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Having the audience respond to where they were from as I went alphabetically through the list, only Louisiana, Missouri and North Carolina were excluded from the presentation, proving the geographic diversity of the audience.
The highlight of the evening was a presentation titled “Stories from the Big Book of Gullah”. Story tellers Zenobia Washington and Sophia Jackson presented original stories based on Gullah traditions. Artist Zenobia Washington was raised in the port city of Georgetown, SC and influenced by the Gullah culture.
Many know Zenobia through her art of doll making, Zenobia is the director of Frameworks, a non-profit organization working with the youth of Georgetown in story telling and theater arts. Sophia Jackson is a native of Georgetown, SC and a longtime lover and pursuer of the arts. Having graduated from the University of South Carolina with a degree in film making and African American studies, she has recently joined efforts with Frameworks as a vehicle for sharing her expertise and artistic views. Also joining the cast was Gloria Bar Ford. Interspersed with poetry, storytelling and singing, the presentation was excellent and shows great potential for future collaboration.
One other very important element of the stay was that owners Frank and Raejean agreed that Zenobia could arrange for some youth and their chaperones to spend the night in the slave cabin with me. Seven young men ages 14 – 16 associated with the group Sons of Allen were chosen. Throughout the thirty eight stays, I have had many people share the experience of sleeping in the slave dwellings with me. This one, I would anticipate the most because of the potential to influence youth, more specifically, young African American males. The opportunity to educate was fully embraced. Dropped off by their parents, all of the young men had arrived at or before the appointed time of 6:00 pm. I, arriving at 5:30 pm, had the opportunity to meet some of the parents of the young men. All of the young men seemed ready for what they had volunteered to do. Their actions through dinner and the presentations were more than respectable.
Upon entering the cabin to prepare my spot for sleeping, I was not surprised that all seven young men chose the same side of the cabin. I could not let them just drift off to sleep without first taking advantage of this teachable moment.
Although they attended the dinner presentation, I wanted to give them more details about what our ancestors endured for us to have the liberties that we enjoy today. I asked fellow Civil War reenactors Terry James who would be sleeping in a slave cabin for the 12th time and Ramona La Roche who would be staying for the first time to join me in communicating with the young men. Ramona queried the young men about their plans for the future.
I could not help but recall a situation that Terry James and I experienced when we slept in the other slave cabin on the property. Terry told them that when he closed the door on the cabin he looked up and noticed that a snake had shed its skin right above the door. He went on to say that we both had to convince ourselves that because the shed skin was dry, the event took placed weeks maybe months before we got there and the snake was long gone. My role in this teachable moment was minimized when Terry James led the discussion drawing on his experience of currently raising two teen age boys and his experience of sleeping in 11 cabins to date. When prompted by Ramona, I only had to chime in to keep the conversation in an historical context. This involved telling the group about the movement westward of this young nation and how slavery factored into that movement.
As if planned, our teachable moment was pleasantly interrupted by owners Frank and Raejean, Frank went to the side of the chaperones and Raejean came to the side where Ramona, Terry and I were with the seven young men. Hoping that the young men were taking notes for an upcoming essay that they had to write about the stay in a slave cabin, I queried Raejean as if the information that she was about to give me, I would be hearing for the first time. She stated that she tries to avoid giving guided tours of the house because it usually becomes a tour about them and not the property and its past inhabitants. She leaves the job of the house tours to the hired staff. As she explained the history of Hopsewee, I could not help but to latch on to what she said about its connection to the invention of the water and steamed powered rice mill. John Hume Lucas who owned the plantation from 1844 – 1853 was a successful rice grower and engineer and a relative of Jonathan Lucas, Jr. and Jonathan Lucas Sr. Both Lucas’ Jr. and Sr. were responsible for inventing, building and perfecting rice mills. I could not help but to interrupt her presentation to make connection to Eli Whitney and his invention of the cotton gin. Both inventions increased the need for more slaves.
When Raejean and Frank left we became more grateful that the fireplaces in the cabin worked. In anticipation of a cold night, Raejean and Frank lit a fire in both fireplaces and provided enough wood to last throughout the night. The fire was cozy but we learned quickly that the windows on the cabin had to be slightly open to let out some of the smoke that would accumulate inside. After our session with the young men, all of the adults gathered on the other side of the cabin and quickly started to talk about subjects that mattered to adults. I became more acquainted with the group Sons of Allen. These men were responsible for assembling the group of young men who were staying the night. Information taken directly from their website describes the group as follows: “In 1984, the African Methodist Episcopal Church created the Sons of Allen Men’s Fellowship to foster closer relationships between men of the church, to equip men of the church for meaningful service, to reach unchurched men, and to present positive role models for our youth. The Sons of Allen has grown into an important connectional movement over the past twenty-plus years and the Fellowship is becoming a true connectional ministry. The challenges and disturbing realities facing African American men call for a response from the church.”
As we all claimed our spots on the floor we realized the twelve of us sleeping in the cabin that night would be using up all of the available floor space. I am certain that if the artifacts that were in the cabin were removed, we could have squeezed in even more people and that was likely the way that it would have been during the time of slavery. Once again, in preparation for his night sleep, Terry James attached the slave shackles to his wrist. As I drifted off to sleep, the young men were still talking among themselves. As we slept through the night, one of the chaperones would occasionally get up and put another log on the fire. On one occasion I awoke to a blazing fire in the fireplace and the sound of an owl in the background.
Unlike the first stay, sleeping in the cabin farthest away from Highway 17 made a big difference because the noise of the vehicles going across the bridge that spans the North Santee River was less prominent. Waking up the next morning, we all took advantage of the opportunity to take group photographs before we all went our separate ways. One by one the mothers of the young men came to pick them up. All of the mothers expressed great appreciation for the experience that we gave their kids. Raejean came and offered those of us remaining breakfast, some accepted but I had an appointment to keep with my young daughter.
Somewhere along this journey, I was told that what I was doing was art, it was Holly Springs, Mississippi to be exact. Until this stay at Hopsewee, I did not buy into that thought process. Did the dinner audience come for the food, did they come for the great performance of Stories from the Big Book of Gullah, or did they come to hear about the Slave Dwelling Project?
I cannot answer that question but I do know that all three elements worked well together. I also know that those three things combined did not excite me as much as spending the night in a slave cabin with seven young African American males.
I just hope that the experience gave them an indication of what their ancestors endured so that they can enjoy the liberties that they have today. Owners Frank and Raejean and all others involved in organizing this stay should be proud and also know that you have now raised the bar for future stays in extant slave dwellings.
Although a repeat stay, many new and interesting twists were added that would add new standards to the project.
We Shall Over Come
By: Mr. Jordan Manigault
Property! The definition of property is someone’s possession. Do you know what it means for a person to be called someone’s property? When you are considered property you have no freedom, nor rights. If you don’t have either you have no say or control of your life. Slaves were considered possessions of their slave owners. During that time in history they were used as collateral. They could be sold and bought just like you buy items out of the store today. Therefore, as a result, their lives were affected by daily ridicule and unimaginable hardships. Slaves had no control over when they were going to be sold or traded. Families were torn apart in many ways. The husbands and sons watched their mothers, wives, and sister suffer abuse physically, sexually, and mentally and could do nothing about it. They were property of their slave owner. The lives of our ancestors as slaves was hard, but slavery still exist today.
In today’s society we enslave with modern day technology. Technology has taken over to the point where we are too dependent on it. We no longer know and understand what it is like to think for ourselves or to work with our hands because computer and technology does everything for us. Children no longer enjoy the outdoors. They don’t go outside to play because the majority of them have computers, video games or cell phones in which they spend all their time on these devices. We no longer share conversations with our family and friends or love ones. Again, we have been bought by the use of technology, every time a new device comes out we worry our parents to go out and purchase the newest device of today. We need to get back to some of our old habits.
In order to overcome being enslaved to technology we have to put those devices down and spend more time together as families; laughing and talking to one another, spending more time outdoors enjoying the gift GOD gave us to see, hear and smell his creation.
In order for this change to have a positive impact on today’s youth, everyone must get involved. Adults must realize that they should not only be concerned on the well being of their children, but ALL children as a whole. I believe that more outreach ministries could be established that will teach the youth self-respect and dignity. By instilling these values in the youth now the ending results will be remarkable.
By Mr. Timothy Guiles
Hopsewee use to be a plantation with slaves. It was very cold and dark. There weren’t any beds to sleep on. If we were slaves, we would have to sleep on the floor but we had sleeping bags. It was fun because I had my friends there with me but if we were in slave times, it wouldn’t have been fun at all. The men that stayed with us told us the real story about slaves. Not the fake stuff we learn or learned about in history class. I was surprised at what they told me. I didn’t know that slave work up at 4:00 am to start their day of working. One of the men told us that when we are in class, think about what our ancestors went through in slavery and use that knowledge to improve our school and work manners.
We had a fireplace but that only kept us warm for so long. When I woke up in the middle of the night, it was super cold. Before we went to sleep in the slave house, we ate some food that they use to eat back in slave times. There was grits, mac and cheese, lemonade, tea, beans and more.
It’s not fair that we have more things than slaves had we still don’t appreciate what they did for us. We sit there; stand there with freedom because our ancestors did that for us. Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X helped Blacks earn freedom. If it weren’t for Abraham Lincoln, we would still be in those fields picking cotton and getting whipped for no reason.
I learned that if you don’t try, you won’t succeed. I also learned that you are going to have to do things that you don’t want to do in order to get where you want to go in life. It’s life as most say today. This world still isn’t equal enough. We still have murderers, racism, and rapist. We are going to have to learn how to get along with each other or this world is going to break apart.
Hopsewee was a very good experience for me to see how a slave would sleep at night. Well I enjoyed staying there. That will be a never forgetting moment.