Naming, claiming, maintaining: The Plantersville Cultural Initiative

By Sara Sobota

The threads of the story are there on the overgrown land. The entire story exists within the artifacts, as well as in Plantersville residents’ experiences and memories. The question is, how do we bring that story to life? How do we tell it in a way that reflects the truth of the past, the present, and the future? 
    Located six miles north of Georgetown on U.S. 701, the Plantersville community contains 21 former plantations along the Pee Dee River, a national scenic byway, and four structures on the National Register of Historic Places. However, a nonresident driving by would assume it’s just one more rural highway out in the country. CCU’s Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies, in conjunction with the Village Group’s Plantersville Cultural Center and the Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge (WNWR), are working to ensure the Plantersville story gets told and its culture preserved.
    “This area really was the seat of rice production. A lot of the people who owned the lands were the foundation of South Carolina and of the American fabric,” said Alli Crandell, director of the Athenaeum Press and Edwards College Digital Initiatives. “The governor of South Carolina during the Civil War resided at Chicora Wood Plantation. The Heriot family owned Derliton Plantation, [both of which are in Plantersville.] Edward Heriot was one of the richest men in America and owned 3,000 enslaved Africans. But the story that isn’t told is of the 3,000 people who labored, built the industry, and brought knowledge and innovation to the process.”
    A team of Edwards College faculty, staff, and students has been working in the Plantersville community for two years through the Plantersville Cultural Collective. The first phase of the initiative involved a series of interviews with community members. Zenobia Harper, Joyner Institute community outreach coordinator, has played a critical role in collecting community stories. A native of Georgetown and founder of the Gullah Preservation Society, Harper emphasized the importance of building trust with residents in order to gain true insight to their culture.
    “You need to spend a lot of time with people before you interview them if you want to get to a certain level of interview,” said Harper. “We’re trying to get down to the soul of the community, and it takes time to do that. You can get the statistics on how many roads, businesses, or plantations there are, but when you’re talking to the residents, you want to get to the soul of what that community is.”
  The archived stories of Plantersville, including the voices of 30 residents in an audio interactive tour as well as a virtual reality experience, will be on display at the Plantersville Cultural Center in early 2023.
    Hasty Point Plantation, located in Plantersville, dates back to the 1700s and includes a rice barn that is more than 200 years old; it was purchased by WNWR in 2020. Of all the former plantation sites in Plantersville, Hasty Point is the only one with much of its original landscape intact and also the only one that will eventually be open to the public. Crandell and Harper, as well as Sue Bergeron, chair and associate professor in the Department of Anthropology and Geography, have worked closely with WNWR manager Craig Sasser to facilitate the process of telling the Hasty Point story.    
    “Craig understands that this place has so much historical significance, so [WNWR is] putting a lot of time and effort into how to unveil Hasty Point to the public,” said Harper. “There are so many sensitive places. Where was everything? Exactly how old is the barn? How do they want people to interact with the barn? Where are the burial sites? As they roll out Hasty Point, they’re trying to be not only environmentally conscious, but historically conscious.” 
    In the meantime, CCU students are working with the Plantersville Village Group’s after-school and summer programs to introduce students to Hasty Point Plantation. In July, they held a two-week storytelling program that included a lesson on drums.
    “We wanted [the children] to experience drums on the plantation and how they were used as communication and resistance,” said Harper. “The kids learned about their importance in the plantation system and how, eventually, they were banned.”
    Crandell said WNWR is planning Hasty Point programs that will feature Harper as an educator.
 “She’ll likely be doing presentations on the importance of rice and Gullah Geechee heritage, and also workshops, because Hasty Point is also a space of trauma. So we’re asking, ‘How can we use this space as a site of healing?’”
    The CCU/Village Group/WNWR collaboration has many more chapters ahead, as each organization plays a key role in learning, interpreting, and telling the stories of Plantersville.