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Wednesday, April 13, 2016


by Rebecca Evans

Image source: Olde Colony Bakery

Olde Colony Bakery, “home of the original Charleston
benne wafer,” boasts a website where you can buy
benne wafers online. “Our 3oz Benne Wafer
Standup Pack is our medium-sized gift option!”
                    Early 18th century slaves brought benne seeds
                    from Africa to the Carolina sea islands,
                    cultivated them in hidden, forbidden gardens,
                    a staple food seed for rice cookery.
                    Their rice was the bread of life.

At Charleston City Market and Edisto Island
beautiful, costly sweetgrass baskets are sold.
“Our baskets bring African flair into your home!”
Works of art crafted by gifted black hands, a skill
handed down from Sierra Leone slave ancestors.
                    Large, flat, utilitarian marsh grass baskets were
                    coiled tight enough to hold water, fanners woven
                    by slaves to winnow the rice they harvested
                    on swampy, low country plantations.

Mother Emanuel church stands less than a mile
from the Old Slave Mart, where, around the corner
the old Huguenot Church honors my ancestor
on a bronze plaque, his dates, 1720 – 1774.
                    Rev. Francis Pelot, Baptist minister, was very rich,
                    owner of three islands, thousands of mainland
                    Carolina acres, plantations, “a great number
                    of slaves and stock in abundance.” Owned
                    a valuable library, devoted time to books.

What kind of wealthy master he was, we’ll never know,
A Baptist intimate friend deemed him “a worthy man,”
“in his family, a bright example of true piety.” But
Frederick Douglass writes that religious slaveholders
“are the worst,” describes the cruelty of an evangelical Methodist.
my ancestor in Maryland, the Rev. Rigby Hopkins
                    who boasted of his whipping slaves "with
                    what wonderful ease . . . to alarm their fears.
                    And yet there was not a man any where round . . .
                    that prayed earlier, later, louder
                    than this same reverend slave-driver."

When television broke the news from Charleston
last June, I joined the nation’s shocked mourners,
grieved the loss of the massacred nine, cut down
while heavenward bound in forgiving prayer, and
pitied the white boy dreaming a race war dream
to spread conflict sown by slaveholders like my ancestors
and handed down the line to sons, along with their slaves
and slave gifts of benne seeds and beautiful basketry.

Rebecca Evans, a retired journalist and editor who helped aspiring writers get published, has taken up poetry reading and writing and finds inspiration in Peggy Rozga’s class at UW-Waukesha. Rebecca now hosts a regular gathering of poet friends to share their writing at her dining table in Greenfield, Wisconsin.