Magnolia Gardens celebrates black history

  • Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Magnolia Plantation and Garden’s award-winning slave cabin project, “From Slavery to Freedom,” will serve as the backdrop in February for historians, artisans, genealogists and storytellers each Saturday during Black History Month.

Four former slave dwellings, which make up the cabin project, were occupied at Magnolia from 1850 into the late 20th century. Five years ago, the cabins were renovated to represent different periods from slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights movement.

Each Saturday in February one of the cabins along “the street” will be featured during a Black History Month celebration, “From Slavery to Freedom: A Testament of Time.”

From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. activities will include foodways and craft demonstrations, storytellers, children activities, a specialized cabin tours, live music and a walk through Magnolia’s African-American cemetery, which holds the remains of black families who cultivated Magnolia’s gardens.

Lisa Randle, Magnolia’s director of research and education, said the preservation of the cabins provides a unique opportunity to “not only talk about four significant time periods in black history, but they also offer the tangible cultural landscape connecting our part of the world to a larger national story. By focusing on four time periods, we are hoping visitors will find one or more areas of interests.”

Tom Johnson, Magnolia’s executive director, said throughout the year Magnolia consistently tells the story of the role African Americans played in the creation and maintenance of the gardens. “Magnolia’s camellia collection includes two plants named African Americans, Tina Gilliard, who was a long-time greeter at Magnolia in the early 1900s, and the Rev. John Bennett, former Magnolia garden superintendent,” he said.

Magnolia’s history consultant Joseph McGill said Magnolia’s cabins take the bold step daily to interpret the contributions of enslaved and free people on a Southern plantation. The Black History Month program, he said, offers an opportunity to broaden the discussion of the role African-Americans played in Lowcountry culture. “The wide array of presenters and subject matters is an indication that African Americans contributed to numerous facets of this nation’s history.”

The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded in 1915 by educator and historian Carter G. Woodson, is calling for Black History Month events this year to highlight the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. In keeping with ASALH’s nationwide call, Magnolia’s program will observe these anniversaries as part of its events.

The lectures and concurrent demonstrations will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the cabins and costs $8 for adults in addition to the $15 general garden admission. Children under six are free.

The schedule of speakers and demonstrations is:

Saturday, Feb. 2, the 1850 cabin will be featured to discuss slavery. The featured speaker at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will be Dr. John Michael Vlach, George Washington University. He will present his work on plantation architecture. His well-known book, “Back of the Big House,” will be available for purchase during a book signing.

Concurrent demonstrators will include:

* Brickmaking by Rodney Prioleau, master mason, Fort Sumter National Monument.

* Provisioning and the slave garden by Heather Welch, Magnolia’s foodways historian.

Saturday, Feb. 9, the 1870 cabin will be featured to discuss Reconstruction, the rebuilding period following the Civil War. The featured speakers at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. will be Georgetown research and educator Ramona LaRobin and Toni Carrier, Lowcountry Africana, University of South Florida, respectively. They will present genealogy seminars on the use of records that help black families find their ancestors before 1870. Carrier and LaRoche will be joined by genealogists Paul Gabarini and Fallon Green from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for one-on-one research sessions. Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, will present at 12:30 p.m. At 2 p.m., historian and consultant Paige M. Wagoner, will discuss Reconstruction-era housing for freedmen.

Concurrent demonstrators will include:

* Blacksmithing by Carlton Simmons and Julian Williams, Philip Simmons Foundation.

* Subsistence farming by Heather Welch, Magnolia’s foodways historian.

Saturday, Feb. 16, the 1926 cabin will be featured to discuss migration of African Americans to northern states. At 10 a.m., Dr. Rénard Harris of the College of Charleston will discuss the history and influence of the Blues and he will perform. Storyteller Carolyn Jabulile White, will perform at 11 a.m. Joseph McGill, founder of the Slave Dwelling Project, will present at 12:30 p.m. At 2 p.m., Dr. Bernard Powers of the College of Charleston, will discuss migration patterns.

Concurrent demonstrators will include:

* Hands on limewashing of the cabins led by Kevin Meeks, Rock Creek Craftsman. Meek, whose company restored the cabins, will lead small preservation-focused tours throughout the day.

* Extension and aide programs led by Heather Welch, Magnolia’s food historian.

The Feb. 16 program will coincide with the American Heritage Merit Badge Program for local Boy Scout troops. Magnolia is the only local organization that teaches the American Heritage Merit Badge as it pertains to African-American history. For more information about this program, write to Chris Smith, Magnolia’s education program director, at tours@magnoliaplantation.com.

Saturday, Feb. 23, the 1969 cabin will be featured to discuss Civil Rights and desegregation. Joseph McGill, Slave Dwelling Project, will present at 10 a.m. Story teller Theresa Hilliard will perform at 11 a.m. Dr. Kerry Taylor of The Citadel Oral History Project, will lead a discussion at 2 p.m. with Mary Moultrie, civil rights activist, and Isaac Leach, a fourth-generation Magnolia gardener and former resident of the 1969 cabin.

Concurrent demonstrators will include:

* Hands on limewashing of the cabins led by Kevin Meeks, Rock Creek Craftsman. Meek, whose company restored the cabins, will lead small preservation-focused tours throughout the day.

* Hands on archaeology, Kate Fowler, Fort Sumter National Monument.

* Emergence of “soul food” as a commodity, Heather Welch, Magnolia’s food historian.

Each Saturday at 1 p.m., Jenn Haupt, an interpreter of African-American history at Magnolia, will lead a tour of Magnolia’s African-American Cemetery. Detailed tours of the cabins will also be offered each Saturday along with children’s activities that will include marble and kite making and drawing codes used on the Underground Railroad. Rose Marie Manigault, Magnolia’s resident sweetgrass basket maker, will demonstrate her craft each Saturday.

For more information, call 843-571-126.


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