South Carolina Indigo

P1020559Indigo dyed Corchorus olitorius (Tossa jute) with openwork hand embroidery Lucille Junkere 2015

I have been studying and dyeing with indigo dye for over six years and through that connection became aware of one of the first women to be inducted into the South Carolina business hall of fame. When Eliza Lucas Pinckney moved to South Carolina during the eighteenth century she owned a number of African slaves and used their labour and knowledge of indigo cultivation to help indigo become one of South Carolina’s most lucrative cash crops. Her historic contribution to their agricultural economy was acknowledged in the hall of fame. The fact that she was a slave owner using forced unpaid labour to successfully grow and extract indigo for export is not properly acknowledged in South Carolina.

Her Wikipedia entry reads like a shameless celebration of her life. When I first read it last year there were no references to slavery at all so I corrected that. It took me a while because I used academic research to support my references to slavery and her use of the African expertise of indigo cultivation. I took a screen shot of my contribution but within two days someone removed all the references to slavery. So I put them back, they were removed again, this back and forth went on a while it was as if people were trying to erase history. I continued to change the entry and told a few friends and textile artists who helped monitor the removal of the slavery references, reinstating my additions. Finally some of my references have stayed, albeit edited down to perhaps a sentence, but I am satisfied that some of the truth is documented. When people research indigo I want them to know the truth about this magnificent plant colour.

This is a bit part of the problem in America’s southern states, where is the proper acknowledgement, the recognition of the terrible history and legacy of South Carolina’s past and the origins of its wealth? How can people heal if the uncomfortable truths are not addressed? One of nine people killed in Charleston, South Carolina was an African American paster Reverend Clementa Pinckney. When I saw his last name, I wondered whether his relatives were African slaves who grew indigo for Eliza Lucas Pinckney.

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