Long White Bridge, Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, South Carolina is a very beautiful city, but it is tinged with a sense of sadness because of its history. We spent the morning here touring the oldest public garden in the United States – the 500 acres of the Magnolia Plantation on the banks of the Ashley River. The gardens and the grounds, including the mansion, the third built there after one was burned by lightning and another by the Yankees in the Civil War, are breathtaking. The grounds were the haunt of Audubon, who visited the grounds here and sketched birds, and of people the likes of Guggenheim and other wealthy folk. It is amazing that the grounds have been kept and the ultimate in conservation that the former rice fields are now gorgeous gardens and habitat for a myriad of wildfowl.
Magnolia Plantation, though, was a working rice plantation. If anyone doubts the term “white privilege” or tries to tell you that the cause of the Civil War was anything other than slavery, or the economics built on slavery, tell them they need to come to Magnolia and see for themselves how wrong they are. The beauty of the place was built on the backs of African Americans who came to Charleston as slaves – and fully one third or more of those Americans who had ancestors as slaves will trace their roots to South Carolina. The conditions were brutal, and folks forget how very recent the Jim Crow South was, and how it is really only since the 1960’s that any real progress has been made in true integration and equality – progress, but still a long way from the complete goal. We learned that the man who is the head gardener on the property is also the 3x great grandson of a slave, and he himself was brought up in one of the slave cabins on the property. The small 16x16 foot cabins being not much different than they were in the mid-1800’s.
The images I created, then, are beautiful to look at, but when one reflects on how the land was reclaimed from the flood plain, and how the swamp was tamed to become productive rice paddies, the images become more reminders of what went before. And hopefully, they serve to remind us that we’ve a long way to go in both the USA and Canada to provide true equality for all our citizens.