Since 2014, the core mission of “Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice” has been to memorialize our enslaved ancestors, mourn the souls of blacks who were enslaved on Lowcountry South Carolina and Georgia rice plantations, their bodies unburied, their suffering unmourned, and their sacrifices unmarked for future generations, and celebrate the critical role enslaved Africans’ ingenuity, technology, and industry played in the economy of the US South.
By creating beautiful art out of the painful history of enslavement, we strive to create an opening for all oppressed peoples to tell our stories and celebrate our contributions to the world. Now, more than ever before, we must raise our voices and we must tell our stories.
Rest in peace George Floyd (October 14, 1973-May 25, 2020).
John Wineglass and I set out for South Carolina in late August, the hottest and buggiest time of the year. He wanted to approximate as best we could the working conditions to which our ancestors had been subjected. There had been plenty of rain, so the mosquitoes cooperated! Thankfully, the snakes and alligators stayed inside; it was probably too hot for them.
Thanks to my colleague, Dr. Travis Folk of Folk Land Management, Inc. we were able to tour managed and unmanaged rice fields that have gone back to cypress and sweet gum tree forests and record sounds of insects, birds, and water flowing in and out of different parts of the hydraulic irrigation system.
The highlights of my trip were:
- learning the differences between cypress trees (with their “knees” sticking out of the soil or water)
- standing next to a cut down cypress tree and imagining how enslaved men cut it down with hand tools
- driving an air boat through tall grasses in the rice fields!
I have been researching rice and rice farmers and tramping through rice fields on both sides of the Atlantic for the past 25 years. Hanging out with my artistic collaborators, John, and my scientist collaborators, Travis, has opened my eyes and ears to the music of the rice fields! It is transforming “Unburied, Unmourned, Unmarked: Requiem for Rice.” And, it is changing how I write history