(I know, the song is Oh, Suzanna…)
On the latest episode of the VeryPink Knits podcast, we got to learn about the history of indigo in the South East. I had never heard this history of the area, only learning about cotton, sugar, and tabacco in my early education of American history, so I was excited to learn more.
The books Donna Hardy recommended (and now on my reading list) are The Indigo Girl, a historical fiction story of Eliza Lucas Pinckney who at age 16 was left in charge of her family plantation. And, Red, White, and Black Make Blue, a non-fiction story of the indigo industry in the SouthEast.
While I visited Savannah, I didn’t have the chance to explore Ossabaw Island where Donna hosts workshops. I was hoping there was a museum or some place where I could see anything recognizing the influence of indigo in the area, but Donna explained there isn’t really much to see there on the topic. It’s surprising that a crop like indigo that was so important to the area doesn’t get much attention today. So, it’s very important work for local historians and ecologists working to preserve the crop on the island and the stories of those who farmed it.
I also learned that there isn’t much recognition of the role of slavery on the area. While a confederate statue stands in the middle of the largest park and plaques throughout the city remember Civil War soldiers and leaders, there is little recognition of who helped (literally) build the city other than one statue erected in 2002. But, a small group of citizens are working to change that.
I was lucky to be there with a group of professional researchers whose job is to meet strangers and find out more about their lives. We’re social scientists, focus group moderators, and the most curious and interesting people I’ve ever known. One of our members organized a “cultural experience” dinner option for our first night out.
We were bused to a small local soul food restaurant and entertained by the Saltwata Players. We heard tales of their ancestors who were brought from Africa and enslaved. We heard about their family traditions today, listened to beautiful songs, and enjoyed delicious home cooked food. They are trying to keep the Gullah Geechee stories alive for the future generations because their stories and traditions are being lost with each passing generation. The Saltwata Players were honored to be invited to the White House to share their stories when Obama was president.
Pat Gunn, the leader of the group, also hosts The Underground Tours of Savannah. I was only able to join just the end of the tour, but she took many in our group on a tour of significant locations throughout the city that tell the stories of the enslaved people who were brought to Savannah on ships, loaded into a holding area at the docks, and sold in the square. Ms. Gunn and her group are working to raise money and awareness to get historical markers placed in these areas. We talked briefly about the indigo plantations, but our time was limited.
What does this have to do with knitting? Nothing. I was moved by this experience and promised Ms. Gunn to spread the word to get more people talking about and hearing the stories of the under-recognized history of Savannah and the Gullah Geechee people. I hope if you visit Savannah you not only explore the Ossabaw Islands, but also learn more about the untold history of the people who built the city. I encourage you to visit their website for more information on tours and the history of slavery in Georgia.