For a century, Charleston, South Carolina was among the richest communities in the world thanks to the labor of enslaved Africans and the business enterprise of a small and powerful landed class. Agriculture—especially rice cultivation, but also indigo, cotton and tobacco farming—was the economic engine that enabled these planters to establish a ruling class, wield political influence, and build the most dynamic and cosmopolitan urban center in the Southeast. Rice cultivation was a primary activity among blacks that helped forge what we know as Gullah Geechee culture. By extension, Gullah Geechee culture has lent much of the fabric required to stitch together an empire and contributed in a myriad of ways to life in the Lowcountry over the centuries. The efforts of rice cultivators, then, provided the basis for the South’s cultural and economic inheritance, which still is very much felt today, even as new influences make themselves felt.
The Lowcountry Rice Culture Project proposes to discover and revive the significance of rice cultivation and its legacies, and to use this history as a launching off point for broad discussions of race, class, art, trade, history and economics—in short, the various aspects of culture in the Southeast.
The Rice Culture Project is meant to be “indiscriminately inclusive,” to provide a clear frame of reference and safe environment in which such discussions can occur without fear of backlash or misunderstanding. By fostering open and informed dialogue, and by exposing participants to the many aspects and interconnections of Lowcountry culture, we hope to confront differences of opinion directly, resolve conflict, stimulate the local economy, and find common ground on which whites, blacks, Native Americans, immigrants and others can express mutual respect, dampen false debates, and celebrate a common heritage.
Project Organization and Structure
Corporate members include Jonathan Green, President; Thomas Tisdale, Vice-President, Richard D. Weedman, Secretary-Treasurer. In addition, an advisory council and collaborative partners define the project in broad terms, identify potential stakeholders and participants, and subsequently form Steering Committees tasked with refining the ideas and securing necessary funding.