Rethinking the end of the commercial rice industry

I ran across this informative article that introduces us to new, mysterious full-color video of African-American men and women reaping rice with sickles in the Lowcountry.

Watch the video and read the full article by reporter Hanna Raskin in The Post and Courier.

From The Post and Courier's July 20, 2016 article "Home movie from the 1940s captures traditional reaping methods at Willtown Bluff"
From The Post and Courier’s July 20, 2016 article “Home movie from the 1940s captures traditional reaping methods at Willtown Bluff”

Historians have described the commercial rice industry ending in the 1890’s as a result of a series of devastating hurricanes. After the Civil War, freed Blacks’ refusal to do “muck work” made repairing the hydraulic irrigation system on which the industry depended (and which was little used during the last years of the war) difficult if not impossible.

New evidence, including this video from Colleton County, should cause us to rethink this position. Commercial rice production may well have continued into the second half of the 20th century and with a free Black labor force. There are many examples of free Black families throughout the Lowcountry growing rice in their farms for consumption into the mid-20th century as well.

What are your thoughts?

Author: Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black

Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black is an Associate Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Department of History. Her research specialties are pre-colonial and West African history and their connections to the African Diaspora. Fields-Black has written extensively about rice farmers in early modern West Africa, as well as Africans enslaved on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations. Fields-Black is currently writing an epic history of the Gullah Geechee from their Western African origins to the publication of Lorenzo Dow Turner's study of the Gullah Geechee language

1 thought on “Rethinking the end of the commercial rice industry”

  1. I am so excited to read this blog and am learning so much from your journey. This video is absolutely amazing. As a scholar of embodiment, I am most interested in the woman carrying the bucket of water on her head in 1941. These are practices that we no longer see and I am interested in why. My best guess is people chose intentionally to abandon certain forms of “black embodiment” for hopes that they would be accepted by white society (respectability politics). It is a fascinating video to watch…

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