Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four posts where Requiem For Rice Producer and Librettist Dr. Edda L. Fields-Black shares with us how the quest to dig deeper into her own family lineage began. This is the journey that helped to shape the Requiem For Rice.
I originally read Ambrose Gonzales through the lens of an academic historian. Studying Creole languages, I was reading debates among Creole linguists on the origins and nature of Creole languages. My goal was to acquire interdisciplinary tools to bring something new to my historical study of the Gullah Geechee.
But, I am also a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter. From spending the last week of August every year from the age of six until my sister went to college, I knew my father’s family in Green Pond. From driving south on Highway 17 between Charleston and Green Pond as an adult, I learned the highway was built over rice fields as far as the eye could see in both directions. But, I policed the boundary between my academic scholarship and family history to maintain my scholarly objectivity, that “noble dream.” After encountering my ancestor’s open grave on the rice plantation in Green Pond, this fiction did not matter to me anymore. As I researched and wrote the history of the Gullah Geechee, highlighting the importance of the experiences of Africans enslaved on rice plantations, I found my ancestors’ graves in plantation cemeteries. Without looking, I encountered their names and their lives in the plantation sources, and folklore. The experiences of the great-granddaughter and the academic historian collided, initiating a process that would fundamentally change me as an historian.
With fifteen short minutes before the beginning of my class, it was too late to undo what was now inevitable. I didn’t know how I was going to stand emotionally naked before my students and discuss a racist rant, which was, by the way, written about Blacks on the same plantation where my family was enslaved, my people. The show, though, as they say, must go on. I gathered my files, books, and laptop; I stopped in the ladies room to cry more and try to regain my composure; then, I walked slowly down the long sloping corridors and descended four flights of stairs to the basement classroom. It was the longest walk I remember taking. As the students arrived and unpacked their books, they murmured about the readings. They could not believe that someone could be so racist, that something so racist could be printed and that people would not only read it, but buy it. Once they settled in, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and made my announcement…