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307 Mary Jane Manigault A Basket Maker’s Legacy Kate Porter Young • • • Since its arrival in the Carolina Lowcountry in the late seventeenth century, coiled basketry has evolved from its humble origins as an implement of rice processing introduced by African agriculturalists to an American art known throughout the world. For fifty years, Mary Jane Manigault (1913–2010) was a leader in developing baskets as an art form and gaining recognition for the tradition as part of America’s national heritage. Her life history is a vivid portrayal of the lives of the African American women who, as entrepreneurs and artists, played a vital role in the regional economy and culture and, as pioneers and farmers, created and sustained communities of their own making.1 By the time Manigault was born in 1913, her parents had already settled their farm in the newly established community of Hamlin Beach. African Americans, newly emancipated, had forged this community out of wilderness on land they gained from the Hamlin family after the Civil War. The Hamlins, like other planters along the South Carolina coast, yielded to freedmen’s demands for land in exchange for labor in their cotton fields.2 In Christ Church Parish lying just across the Cooper River north of Charleston , seven black communities were established from land freedmen and freedwomen gained from local plantations: Four Mile, Six Mile, Seven Mile, Ten Mile (named for miles distant from Charleston), Snowden, Phillip, and Hamlin Beach. Manigault’s family was one of a dozen that settled the community’s two-hundred-acre tract of virgin forest and marshland located next to Hamlin Sound just behind the Isle of Palms.3 In a 1978 interview, Arthur, Manigault’s husband, vividly recalled stories his grandmother, Patsy Manigault, told of pioneering and settling the community during the late 1800s. Patsy, born on the west coast of Africa, lived on the nearby Mary Jane Manigault Courtesy of Greg Day. Mary Jane Manigault 309 plantation of Boone Hall during the Civil War. After the war she moved to Hamlin Plantation and lived on the “street” (slave quarters) with her son and his wife while they worked to pay for the land and garner the resources needed to establish their own farm in Hamlin Beach. Arthur proudly recounted the difficulties his family had faced: My Old People been through something. They was some tough people, I tell you. When my Old People first come this side off the plantation, all this land you see wasn’t nothing but jibland one time back—just woods and the biggest kind of snake and alligator. Sha, you could hunt deer and all back here. They clear all this land with nothing but axes and mules. It taken them years and years fo’ do that. They first house was right next to the sound da da on a little island under some cedar trees right next to the sound. They lived in a “board and brush house”—that’s what my mama call it—just something to keep them out of the wind and the rain. Then too they didn’t live out there too long ’cause a storm come and carry that house, mash um up. The family continued to face natural disasters but showed great resilience. As Arthur recalled, “The next house they build was right up there where the paved road end next to the creek. Well, sir, around 1911 another storm come. I was a three-weeks-old baby then. My mother taken me in her arms and run for higher ground. That house got washed clean out. So my daddy gather up the board from that house, cut some more, round up a bunch of fellas and go to building the next house way back here in the corner of our land right next to Hamlin’s fields da da” (he was pointing to land that could be seen from the Manigaults’ porch). As time passed, and with a great deal of hard work, his family was able to produce a substantial crop. “By the time I had sense enough to know myself, my family was farming people just as much as the white folks,” Arthur recalled. “We raise rice and cotton and all the thing we eat. That was some good eating back then.” Most families like Arthur’s made their living raising diverse food crops— okra, tomatoes, beans, squashes, melons, millet, rice, collards, and so forth— and a few acres of cotton, which continued to be...


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