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Iconic Black Flower Ladies Disappearing From Charleston's Historic Charm
2/11/2015 4:57:24 PM

Painting by John Doyle
By Barney Blakeney

Charleston has been designated one of the world’s most sought after destinations partly because of its rich history and culture. Much of that history and culture is based in the lifestyles of the Africans and their descendants who populated the region.

But amid the world class sophistication that now characterizes Charleston, disappearing are the African cultural traditions.

One of the most colorful characteristics of Charleston’s history was the Flower Ladies. For generations Black women gathered the colorful wildflowers that grew abundantly in the rich soil near creeks and marshes.

They wrapped their stems with the moss that also was abundant to preserve the blossoms that were taken to the city and sold to adorn the tables and showrooms of downtown homes.

Until the 1960s Black women in long dresses and aprons sold their colorful wares alongside the streets of the historic district. The post office at Charleston’s ‘Four Corners of Law” - the corner of Meeting and Broad streets - whose majestic steps daily was transformed into a field of flowers became the subject of postcards depicting the city’s cultural icons.

Beside the flower ladies were the sweetgrass basket weavers whose intricate craftsmanship began as a utilitarian function and morphed into an artform synonymous with the city itself.

Some sources say the tradition of the flower ladies took roots when former slaves in 1865 decorated the graves of Union soldiers at an antebellum race track, now the site of Hampton Park in downtown Charleston. Former slaves and some 3,000 children marched with women carrying flowers to adorn the graves in what many say was the first Memorial day.

Lynette Youson, chairperson of the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Association, remembers her grandmother gathering wildflowers and selling them on Broad Street beside other women from East Cooper communities. That scene has long disappeared. The city, in its infinite wisdom displaced the women to Market Street where now only a few basket weavers can be found.

The tradition of the flower ladies has disappeared, but a vestige of their heritage remains in the young boys who now sell palmetto roses fashioned from the leaves of palmetto trees, Youson says.

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