The Palmetto House 2

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During the holiday break, I had the pleasure of spending time with my cousins at a wine and cheese party. It reminded me of days gone by at the Palmetto House when our laughter had gotten a bit too loud and the cracking on each other just a bit too much on point. And as a result of my aunts’ nerves snapping, we were sent to “the couch.”  Usually during Christmas dinner I barely have time to utter a hello before I am chasing, wrestling, reasoning, and fussing with my toddler who is not yet old enough to converse with the other cousins over whether “Santa Clause had been good to him.” When I see my cousins for dinner, they are adults carrying on adult conversations, punctuated with the adult laughter, teaming with their spouses, and giving children instructions before returning to their individual conversations. Every once in a while, the childhood teasing and laughter would break through and I would find myself looking at them wondering when was the exact point we all grew up. And I realize that I don’t really know them anymore. I may know their chosen profession, how many children they have, who their spouses are, but I no longer know the day-to-day of them.  What are the little things that makes them laugh? What have been some challenges they have had to face? What do they do in their spare time? And they don’t know the day-to-day of me. It’s something that can be found out in a brief conversation I suppose, but it is difficult to have one of those as I am searching for the right food for my toddler that won’t be politely (and sometimes not so politely) be handed back to me. While I try to treasure the moments when my younger son can fit snug in my lap, I am counting down the days when I can send him off with the other children with a plate and a toy in spite of his difference. Maybe then, I can have those conversations.

For my cousins’ wine and cheese party though, the children were thankfully left in the care of their grandparents (a very rare treat), and I was able to focus on the event itself. I even had a good time. Our family has changed somewhat, with those who are with us in spirit and the addition of spouses, but not really.  As we ate, drank, played games, and cracked on each other (the shade throwing has been somewhat super-sized over the years…), I didn’t see the adults we had become, but I could reflect on the memory of us as children. And as my husband sat in the room with me and the arguments began to crescendo in terms of the advantage gained over the latest parlor game, I wondered if he could even take a glimpse of what my life was like before I knew him. The party took me back to the times of the Palmetto House. Only we could no longer be sent to the couch (though a couple of us should have been.) And though the conversations were never had, I felt like I got to know my cousins a bit better. Like who has watched Frozen over and over and over and over again. Which one of us enjoys sports (and not the usual suspects). Who has scientific knowledge. Which one of us is smarter than credited. Who likes romantic comedy. Which one of us likes girl groups. Who is really competitive. Sense of humor in the most unlikely places). And maybe my cousins could catch a glimpse of me…

Although we were not in the physical Palmetto House, my grandmother’s house, the spirit of that house was inside of all of us. In the laughter and the loud talking.  In the joking and the shade-throwing. And most importantly, in the seats on the couch that should have been taken by all 😉 .

Jazzy’s Beach Day Blog

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My name is Jazzy and I will be three years old in one, two…um seven days. Yesterday, I went to the beach with Daddy, Mama, and my older brother. Mama led me by the hand as we walked on something called a “boardwalk” to the ocean. She said that when she was a little girl, they used to walk from the car along a footpath and that would take them to the beach. When we finally got off the boardwalk, I stepped into some soft dirt that moved under my feet. Daddy and Mama kept calling it, “sand” and there was a whole lot of it. But beyond the sand, I saw all of the water and I wanted to go right to it! I didn’t understand why Mama kept pulling me through the sand, the water was the other way! I cried and fell down to make her understand that we were going the wrong way. Mama picked me up and carried me over to where Daddy and my brother were. They were already taking off their shoes. Mama was helping me take off my shoes and shirt. Oh, she wanted to get me ready for the water. I understood then and stopped crying. Then Daddy and my brother took me by the hand and led me through the squishy, wet, sand towards the water. This wasn’t water I was used to. Usually, water came out of the faucet, came out of the fridge (I press the button when Mama isn’t looking) or shot up through the air from the ground. Sometimes it filled up the tub and I got to go in it. But this water was big. And loud. And I couldn’t see where it ended. And why was it coming at me so quickly. Daddy and my brother held my hand as I dipped my toes in. The water felt warm as it covered my feet. Then it left and the wet sand under my feet began to move. I felt like I was moving too. I squished my toes in the mud. But when that water came back at me, I made a run for it. After a little while, Daddy and my brother took me back to Mama and we had a snack at the towels. Mama and Daddy pointed at the white birds, calling them, “sea gulls.” A lady decided to feed them a snack too. I thought that was nice of her because she was feeding them my favorite food: potato chips. Mama and Daddy didn’t like that too much though. They said that potato chips aren’t good for birds. Mama also pointed at the kites in the sky. She said that when she was little, Grandpapa also used to buy her kites to take to the beach. I wanted to see the water again though, so I took Mama by the hand and together we went back through the squishy sand to the edge of the big water. I ran to the ocean, feeling Mama close behind me. The water was coming towards me again and I stopped where it couldn’t get me. Mama picked me up and dipped my toes again. The sand squished through my toes as the water left my feet. The water felt nice and warm but I liked the wet sand better. My big toe was covered in squishy sand. I wiggled it because it looked interesting covered up like that. Mama tried to get me to go in the water again but I ran from her. I wanted to stay in the wet sand but I wasn’t going back in that big water again. Mama, Daddy, and my brother took me back to the towels again and I found that dry sand was fun to play in also. I covered Mama’s legs with the dry sand. I did that until Daddy said it was time to go because the sun went away. Bye, bye beach, we’ll play another day.

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Download The Promise of Palmettos Free this Weekend

In celebration of the release Destination Wedding on July 31st, please enjoy a Free Kindle download of The Promise of Palmettos this weekend (July 25-27th).

http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/s/ref=is_box_books?k=Kindle+The+Promise+of+Palmettos

The Road to Memphis and a Seat at the Lorraine

Oh where to begin. There is so much to say, so I’ll start at the beginning. I grew up with the Logan Family. I have been living with them since the age of nine. Periodically, throughout the years, I would return to Mississippi for a visit. If you are a Mildred D. Taylor fan like I am, then you know who I am talking about. The book, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry has always stayed with me because it was about a strong Black family who struggled to hold on to their property in the 1930s and 40s. The story reminded me so much of my own family that I was compelled to write, The Promise of Palmettos. Ms. Taylor was as much of an influence to me as my own family, so I was over the moon when she wrote Let the Circle Be Unbroken and The Road to Memphis. No wonder the Civil War/Reconstruction and World War II are my favorite eras in history.

This weekend, I was excited to finally walk in the steps, somewhat, of main character, Cassie Logan as my husband and I headed to Memphis ourselves. Although Cassie was a fictional character, I got chills as I rode along Highway 51, the same roadway she and her friends took from Jackson, Mississippi into this city (I was coming from the direction of Millington). As we made our way through Memphis, I became excited as I took in the architecture of downtown, traveling along the streets and taking in the sites I had only read about. My jubilation was quickly and abruptly squelched however, when we came across Jackie Smith at the Lorraine Motel. One may ask, “Who is Jackie Smith?” Well she is a woman. A Black woman who has set up shop across the street from the very place where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. She has her folding table set up beneath an umbrella to protect her and her little pamphlets from the hot sun. Three signs are hung from her table:

1. Stop Worshipping the Past, Start Living the Dream
2. This site Honors James Earl Ray
3. Gentrification is an Abuse of Civil Liberties

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My husband and I just stood there with identical incredulous looks on our faces, taking in the foolery and watched as people passed by this woman’s table and asked questions. And she rationalized her ignorance. Ms. Smith is protesting the Lorraine Motel Historical Monument. She refuses to enter the museum because she feels that it goes against everything Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for. Instead of preserving the site, she feels that the motel should be low income housing. Therefore, she has sat at her perch, across the street for – wait for it – The past. Twenty-three. Years. I have to say that my problems with Jackie Smith are so huge that I am going to have to address her and her little signs one by one.

1. Stop Worshipping the Past, Start Living the Dream
To me, history isn’t something with which to dwell, but to learn from and be inspired by. Although Cassie Logan was a fictional character, her experiences with segregation and discrimination were very much real. To forget, is disrespectful. Let me say that again. To forget is disrespectful. It is disrespectful to discount the past sacrifices made that got us to this point in history. It is on the shoulders of our ancestors that we stand. So Miss Lady thinks that the site of Martin Luther King’s death all paved over and white washed would serve his legacy better? According to her, we are forgetting his dream. Excuse me? So instead of working to help the people that she feels this site should have been for, this lady sits there and hands out pamphlets that spout her ignorance. Meanwhile, people who gather at her table are seeking her permission to forget about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. My husband and I hear the murmurings, “She’s got a point,” from the crowd as she is telling the public, with her protest, that it is okay for them to not acknowledge that era of our American History. If we people of color do not remember and honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others who fought for our Civil Rights, why should everyone else? And if we don’t, who will? If madam has ever read a history book, listened to the stories of her ancestors, and gotten over herself, she would know that Black people, even before Martin Luther King, Jr., knew that to be successful in this country, they had to have an education (vocational or formal) in order to be elevated to the middle class. As a result, they would be economically successful.

2. This site Honors James Earl Ray.
What does sitting there with a one-woman show, steps away from where the shots were fired to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr., actually do? Who does it even help? People – Black and White – visit the Lorraine Motel. They shed tears. They say a prayer. They teach their children. Among this, I am not seeing how any of this honors James Earl Ray. If anyone is setting up a monument for King’s murderer, it is Jackie Smith. She is murdering history with her propaganda. Her pseudo philosophies are just firing the fatal shot all over again. Only instead of killing the body, she’s killing the dream King left behind. And I resent her very presence. Sun up to sun down, she’s out there. How exactly is she contributing to the society she feels the Lorraine Motel abandoned? That is all I have to say about that foolishness.

3. Gentrification is an abuse of Civil Liberties.
I get that people have issues with gentrification and rightly so. The displacement of residents and the loss of history are the serious downsides. But in order for economic prosperity and revitalization to occur, gentrification needs to happen. Also, consider the fact that gentrification is no longer just confined to small pockets in the urban area. The process is globalized as government entities recognize that the purposeful placement of the middle class brings in a much needed tax base, resulting in economic stability. And Martin Luther King, Jr. was all for that. Also, the globalization of gentrification means that it is not going away. At all. That is why we need to gentrify our own selves! If you can’t beat the process, be a part of the process. And if Miss Lady is saying that the Lorraine Motel is a sign of gentrification, then why isn’t she sitting outside of other gentrified spaces like the rehabilitated commercial properties, the gated infill neighborhoods (Uh, you don’t gate urban single family residential spaces, but that’s another blog post), or the pedestrian walkway/trolley route with her little pamphlets?

I cannot with Ms. Smith. I can respect a difference of opinion. But I cannot respect this so-called stand that she has taken. In fact, I am going to need her to have all of the seats available.

Now I want to speak directly to Miss Smith: If you want to take a stand for the homeless and the poor, then take your stand by doing something that will actually help them. Sitting outside of a historical site, baking in the Tennessee sun and freezing in the Tennessee winter for the past 23 years will not get the homeless and the poor the tools that they need to strive for that economic prosperity that King preached about in his I’ve Been to the Mountain Top Speech. Remember that speech for the sanitation workers given in your fair city the day before he died? You say stop worshipping the past? Really? The Lorraine Motel Monument has been built, drawing hundreds of people daily, so clearly people want to pay homage to Martin Luther King, Jr. They want to. So that ship has sailed. Meanwhile, you madam, still remain on the shore. Going nowhere. Such a shame, though. Think of all the people you could have helped if that was truly your agenda.

Cassie Logan would be ashamed of this. All she and people like her endured so that we can have our civil rights, and this Jackie Smith woman is the payback. But her signs mean nothing to me. That road to Memphis has been my inspiration and I will carry it with me always.

Take it Personally

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My sister posted to Facebook this article from the CNN website about Sapelo Island, which is located off the Georgia Coast. As I read it and sighed, I thought, “Once again, here is the unfortunate story of how property taxes on the island have risen so high that the Gullah-Geechee inhabitants can no longer afford to live there.” This is really a shame because according to the article, Sapelo Island is all that remains of an intact Gullah Community. Now as land gives way to development, it is more important than ever to preserve the culture before it is lost forever.

To add further insult to injury, the tax assessor board chairman, James Larkin basically blames the residents for the tax hike, as some of the native islanders have sold their land to the highest bidder (I don’t have to be at the negotiating table to know that it was sold for less than what it was worth.) While Larkin is a complete jerk for making this statement, he is not wrong. But he does condemn an entire community based on the actions of a few, and that’s not fair. Furthermore, he does not know the circumstances under which the property was sold in the first place. And lastly, people just don’t wake up one morning and say, “Gee, I think I’ll sell my land today” (Well, maybe some do.) There are actually several factors that come into play, the largest being that it is difficult to stand in the way of progress.

Through my research, I have found the top reasons native islanders lose their property:

1. Money – Some people, not all, were enticed by the money. Some people, not all, did not understand the true value of their property. In both cases, they thought that the money was worth more than the land. Money can always be spent and then it’s gone. The land though, is forever.

2. Other opportunities – People left these islands in search of work, schooling, and other opportunities. They did not anticipate returning. People should keep in mind however, that once these lands are sold, there is no buying back in regardless of the amount of money obtained from the sale. Homes, condominiums, and hotels build on the acquired property creates exorbitant land values that will more than likely go beyond the reach of the native islanders who have sold their land.

3. Heirs Property – Oh the heirs property! Yes, that has certainly caused plenty of problems. It was the tradition of native islanders to pass undivided property down the family line. With each generation, the number of property owners increase just for that one parcel of land. It could get to the point where all of the heirs are unknown, which can become extremely messy if there is no will. In this case, it only takes one heir to force the sale of the entire property and it’s usually for less than what it is worth. To combat this issue, it is important for native islanders to leave a will that divides the property and specifies who gets what and which portion.

4. The Tax Hike – This is what the article on Sapelo Island is about. Property taxes rise as the land values rise. People simply cannot afford the land tax and that is not the fault of the individual.

In my book, The Promise of Palmettos, I bring out these same issues on property loss and how some tend to undervalue their land. When I shared the article that my sister posted, one of my friends responded that she didn’t see a way to prevent the issues of loss in these communities. I contend that the only way to fight back, is if each family takes responsibility for holding to what belongs to them. While it is difficult to save these ancestral lands, it is important to preserve the personal histories of people who grew up on these islands so that the Gullah culture does not get lost forever. And that’s not only important for this community but for all people.

To read the article, click on the link below:

http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/26/living/georgia-island-tax-avalanche/index.html

The Promise of Palmettos is Celebrating its One Year Anniversary!

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The Promise of Palmettos is celebrating its one year Anniversary on October 12,2013. In celebration of this milestone event, The Promise of Palmettos with be absolutely free for that one day on Kindle.

Braddock’s Point Cemetery…and Other Places

A few posts ago, I encouraged visitors of Hilton Head to visit Braddock’s Point Cemetery that is located behind the gates of Sea Pines Plantation. Upon doing so, I was reminded of the story that I read concerning the Sea Islands in a 1987 issue of National Geographic. Lord knows where the publication is now (somewhere in the attic of my childhood home), but I remember that there was picture of a woman looking at headstones through a gate. Luxury condominiums served as its backdrop. It’s an odd experience to watch the past and the present collide in such a manner. To me, it’s an unsettling feeling. It makes me wonder if people realize that places like Braddock’s Point Cemetery is more than just a bunch of headstones but a historical record of self-sufficient people who built, lived, and thrived on Hilton Head Island. Up until a few years ago, few people respected that fact. The descendants of the Braddock’s Point Slaves and Freedmen even had to pay to enter the Sea Pines Plantation just to visit the cemetery. The plantation powers-that-be put a stop to that after the wrong was exposed in the National Geographic article.

Another story of the present clashing with the past takes me closer to home. My husband and I went to visit one of my loved ones in the Joe Pope Cemetery, which is located near Broad Creek. First we stopped at the Piggly Wiggly to buy flowers, but we didn’t return to the car, to drive to the destination as was probably expected. It wasn’t necessary. If husband was surprised that I walked through a fence next to the supermarket and into the neighboring cemetery, he never let on. I knew that it was odd to him though that a place so sacred did not have its respected space.

Finally, one summer while I was in college, I worked for one of he resorts on nearby Daufuskie Island. The only way to access this island, even now, is by boat. As we would chug slowly to the docks, one of the first sights of the island was a cemetery near the water. With the surrounding oaks and palmettos, it was actually a beautiful site. But then the welcome center for the resort was right next to it, just marring the whole image. It wasn’t more than a couple of weeks after working at the resort did the islanders tell me that the building wasn’t right next to the cemetery. It was right on top of the cemetery and there was a big lawsuit going on for the resort to move the welcome center. I was appalled but it wasn’t surprising. A lot of the older graves on the Sea Islands are either unmarked or the headstones have sunken into the soft earth. I just wonder why development has to occur right next to or practically on top of these final resting places, as if our ancestors never existed. I’ve been to a few cemeteries over the years in places like New Orleans and Philadelphia where they are apart of the cities’ character. I feel as these places are respected as places that contributed to this country’s history rather than as places that are an inconvenience to someone’s plans for development.

If you have read either The Promise of Palmettos or Marshland, you will find that I make references to the cemeteries to help the reader understand that these aren’t just places to bury loved ones. These places are also a part of our history. It displays our traditions. This cemeteries on the islands are the only places undisturbed by time. They are a record of our past.