Scanlonville vs. "Progress"

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The cover story in this week's Charleston City Paper (7/2/08) is a nice piece by CP Music Editor T. Ballard Lesemann entitled "Hidden Heritage: The community of Scanlonville fights to protect a vanishing history."

Scanlonville is a centuries old, predominately black neighborhood in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, that is fighting to retain it's heritage and culture against one of the most destructive and seemingly unstoppable forces of modernity - economic development in the name of "progress."Much of Scanlonville's fight centers on the town cemetery. Writes Lesemann:

"The cemetery is a remarkably tranquil place. The plot was established over 130 years ago under moss-draped oaks at the northwest side of the community at the base of a marsh along Molasses Creek. More charming than eerie, it's tucked away from the paved roads and dotted with small concrete and marble headstones (some with hand-scratched lettering) and tin funeral home plates bearing such family names as Coleman, Small, Drayton, Bailey, Brown, Fordham, Simmons, Webster, and Rivers. Some graves are still adorned with symbolic "grave goods," such as ceramic tea pots, medicine bottles, mirrors, and broken plates — a practice common in many African-American cemeteries in the Carolinas. Many burial sites are barely visible or marked by a bleached whelk shell or a palmetto log.

"I was not aware that all the evergreens and shells and plates were so significant," (longtime resident and East Cooper civic club president Ed Lee) says. "I got an education from Dr. Trinkley on that. He had the expertise to recognize those. I knew that the people in the neighborhood knew who they were. As a matter of fact, you'll still find flowers on spots that have no marker from people who attended a funeral and know that's their mother or grandmother right there. There's no official marker, but they know that's where it is."

In a testimony before Town Council in 2001, William H. "Ghost" Fordham, one of the key community leaders who led the fight to save the cemetery, stated that he had over 20 relatives buried in the graveyard, including grandmothers and grandfathers. According to minutes from the town meetings, he added that the graveyard belongs to the community and asked whether the town was going to let Rogers (a local would-be developer) "dance" on the graves of his forefathers and ancestors."

This story immediately brought to my mind essayist Wendell Berry, the modern day Agrarian, who constantly advocates for organic communities over atomistic living, mom-and-pop over urban sprawl and localism over nationalism (or internationalism). Like the original agrarian writers (Twelve Southerners, "Ill Take My Stand") and small town America patriot Bill Kauffman,  in "Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community" Berry offers sentiments the residents of Scanlonville likely would agree with:

"I acknowledge that to advocate such reforms is to advocate a kind of secession - not a secession of armed violence but a quiet secession by which people find the practical means and the strength of spirit to remove themselves from an economy that is exploiting them and destroying their homeland. The great, greedy indifferent national and international economy is killing our country. Experience has shown that there is no use in appealing to this economy for mercy toward the earth or toward any human community. All true patriots must find ways of opposing it."

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