By Lorna Beck
I am writing in response to D.R.E James’ article titled “How Jerk Chicken Made Me Rethink Charleston’s Plantation Culture”. The article appeared in the Sept. 7 issue of The Charleston Chronicle.
In response to Mr. James’ article, I’d like to pose this question: “Can jerk chicken be the instrument that shows the people of Charleston how to shed mental slavery?”
I ask this question because of my history of growing up in Jamaica and being the founder of a festival that celebrates jerk chicken and Caribbean culture.
The Maroons in Jamaica escaped to the hills to flee the wrath of the plantation owners, the overseers and the deplorable working conditions that held them captives.
But the enslaved workers at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens had no hills to escape to. Surely some of them may have liberated themselves before Emancipation. However, for those who remained until they were ultimately freed by the Civil War, they are responsible for creating one of the world’s greatest gardens.
They shed their life’s blood at Magnolia and today as a free woman and a proud Jamaican I can walk the grounds of Magnolia and pay homage to their memories. I don’t bow to anyone to admire the acreage created by God and worked by my ancestors.
I ask the question, why should I be denied the pleasure of enjoying the grounds of Magnolia on which my ancestors worked and died?
The S.C. Reggae Jerk Wine Festival that I founded has the inalienable right to be held at any venue in Charleston and not inflict self-imposed restriction on itself.
In March 2017, we hosted the Unity Day at Island Breeze at Mosquito Beach on Sol Legare Road on James Island. Based on Mr. James’ logic, we should have ran out of space to accommodate all the people wanting to pay tribute to the land that was once one of Charleston’s segregated beaches. For the last three years the Marcus Garvey Day celebration has been held on Mosquito Beach, and the maximum participation remains fewer than 100 people.
We talk “unity.” We talk “ending the racial divide.” But unless we take concrete steps to end the division nothing will change. Fortunately, I know who I am, and I know my worth. Black people may have been considered three fifths of a person hundreds of years ago. I am not and have never believed I am anything but a strong Black woman from a tribe of female warriors.
Jamaica was a crucial part of the slave trade. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and we are no longer slaves not in body nor in mine. We’ve divested ourselves of the vestiges of slavery, and now we celebrate freedom. Even our festival celebration of carnival reflects our abandonment of slavery and our outer expression of freedom.
In Haiti, the people demonstrated that same freedom by making “Joumou” the once forbidden soup on Independence Day. We have gained self-rule and self-pride. We rub shoulders with any race, with any people without titles.
So, we chose to celebrate Jamaica, the wonderful sounds of Reggae and the culinary delight of my ancestors’ “jerk” with the people of South Carolina on the garden grounds once worked by our enslaved ancestors. Today, every black person can walk there as free.