Boone Hall Plantation: Really just a working Farm
This is a long one…maybe a full chapter….
Boone Hall was not quite a botanical garden, but it gave me a lot to think about. This plantation was like many others in SC, large, pretentious main house with several “servants’ quarters,” which, according to the tour guide, were quite nice…other than the fact that they were the size of a modern mobile home and housed at least 10 people in each one. No matter how beautiful the landscape is, or how grand and stately the main house is, this is always a sad story in the end.
We rode on a large wagon with other curious tourists of all races and skin tones, and it seemed like everyone felt the weight of the history.
Because they had nowhere else to go, the former slaves became sharecroppers who could only earn fake money (script) that could only be spent at the plantation store. Even after they were freed, they could not even physically go into the store, but had to stand at a window and tell the clerk what they wanted.
For a while the slaves and sharecroppers made bricks from the clay just beneath the marsh. In the winter time, when the fields were bare, adults went into the marsh and gathered the clay and dragged it up to the kilns in wagons. The actual bricks were formed by children because they were too young to work in the fields…and, God knows, every body had to work!
I grew up about 80 miles south of Charleston in a small town named Beaufort. (It means “beautiful fort.”) I loved the giant moss covered oak trees along Bay Street which was lined with old civil war era mansions. I used to ride my bike down there and just sit on the ground, staring out at the Beaufort River. I loved the grand old homes and the gardens, and the grandmothers who tended them. Sometimes early on a Sunday, I’d ride my bike through town and hear the shouting and singing and “Praise Jesus” coming out of the windows of the small AME church in the poor part of town.
When I was in high school I started tutoring a little girl who lived on the island across the bridge. Her name was Lilly Mae. She needed help with her reading and spelling. Then, a little later in high school I got a paper route on those islands. That’s when I saw the shocking reality. Long, muddy, narrow roads lined with trash and wild birds and dogs picking through it. “Houses” made of plywood, barely standing up. In front of one shack was a nice new Cadillac and a guy sitting in the yard surrounded by beer cans.
Until recently I thought that everyone “got along in my town.” I never felt any racial tension or disconnection from my classmates in school or at my first few jobs. It was a “simply southern” existence. Now I know I was just blind to the inequalities.
This trip has helped me to see with new eyes. People are still friendly and “get along,” but for me there is a sense of regret that I did not understand sooner. And that is why traveling is so important. Like Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to bigotry, prejudice and narrow-mindedness.”
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