Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Sewing Environmental Justice into African-American Sweetgrass Basket-Making in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Sewing Environmental Justice into African-American Sweetgrass Basket-Making in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Article excerpt

This paper contributes to the evolving definition of environmental justice by applying insights from the interdisciplinary social science literature in political ecology. While early scholarly environmental justice examinations focused on distributive outcomes of risk, more recent studies have expanded the field to include the analysis of the environmental decision-making and environmental dispute processes. Building on insights in political ecology, including recent research from the Third World that argues for the importance of considering the distribution of environmental benefits and access by marginalized groups, we examine the ways that rural development and urban expansion have affected the tradition of sweetgrass basket-making in the greater Mt. Pleasant area of the South Carolina Lowcountry. The case of Mt. Pleasant basket makers demonstrates that in-migration and associated land-use change are also associated with historical (and divergent) understandings of private property rights, resource access, and the special case of African-American heirs' property. To overcome these challenges, more meaningful participation in land-use decision making processes by affected communities is needed.

Este trabajo contribuye a la definicion, aun en evolucion, de justicia ambiental mediante la aplicacion de corrientes de la literatura interdisciplinaria en ciencius sociales, especificamente en ecologia politica. Mientrus que las primeras exploraciones cientificas en justicia ambiental se enfocaron en la distribucion de resultados de riesgo, estudios mas recientes han ampliado el campo para incluir analisis sobre los procesos de toma de decision ambiental y de disputus ambientales. Partiendo de corrientes en ecologia politica, incluyendo investigaciones recientes en el Tercer Mundo, que abogan por la importancia de considerar la distribucion de beneficias ambientules y el acceso de los grupos marginados, examinamos las formas en que el desarrollo rural y la expansion urbana han afectado la tradicion de confeccion de canastas en el area de Mt. Pleasant de las Tierras Bajus de Carolina del Sur. El caso de los cesteros de Mt. Pleasant demuestra que la inmigracion y los cambios en usos del terreno que ello implica estan tambien asociados a interpretaciones historicas (y divergentes) sobre los derechos de la propiedad privada, acceso a los recursos, y el caso especial de herencia de propiedad entre los Afroamericanos. Para superar estos retos, es necesaria una participacion mas significativa de las comunidades afectadas en los procesos de toma de decisiones en cuanto al uso del terreno.


   Does a survival of African basket weaving
   art exist in ... [the lowcountry
   SC]? This question poses itself to persons
   who witness the basket weavers
   outside Mount Pleasant patiently
   weaving artistic designs from sweetgrass,
   pine needles, and palmetto
   fronds. Today's designs, adapted to fit
   the demands of tourists who form the
   greater part of their buyers, are functional
   and modern in usefulness. The
   methods used to weave them, however,
   have not changed within the
   memory of living persons. 'We make
   them now the same way and we were
   taught how to make them by our parents,'
   the negro weavers, all women,
   will say in effect to queries.... Gleaming
   1949 automobiles, driven by persons
   from the large and modern
   centers of this country's industrial
   areas, continue to stop for a look at an
   importation of the artistry of African
   workers. The American descendants,
   who are also artists in their handiwork,
   continue to earn a livelihood
   (Leland 1949).


Written in 1949, this quotation from Charleston, South Carolina's local newspaper, the News and Courier, provides a glimpse into the tradition of basketmaking in the Lowcountry. At mid 20th century, the weavers (also referred to as sewers) worked "outside Mount Pleasant," but as this once small town expands into formerly rural areas, basket makers are now operating "within Mount Pleasant. …

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