Thursday, December 31, 2009

WPA

The Federal Writers Project was created in 1935 out of the dust of the Great Depression as a part of the Work Projects Administration in President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal. In my home state of South Carolina, the writers in the writers' program journeyed through the Palmetto counties, from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, from the Upstate to the Midlands, to the Low Country, and wrote down the sights they saw and the stories they heard, writings that were collected and binded into a book titled, "The WPA Guide to the Palmetto State."

I am writing a story about two brothers growing up in Clarendon County, SC during desegregation and the early Civil Rights Movement so I am using the Guide to help me journey back to that time and place and listen to the stories of the people and see the sights on the land as they were in the 1930's and 1940's. On one of those journeys I discovered a story from a trail to Scott Lake in Clarendon County, a place near the Liberty Hill African Methodist Episcopal Church where meetings were held in the 1940's and 1950's that led to local court cases which helped bring about the U.S. Supreme Court's 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling desegregating public schools. Here is the story as it was written by the FWP writer.

"The trail leads around the lake through virgin timber and dense undergrowth. Here rises the vast bulk of an INDIAN MOUND (R), 1 m., 50 feet high and 800 feet in circumference. Legend recounts that it is under the curse of an Indian girl deserted by her lover. Atop the mound is the SITE OF FORT WATSON, a British Revolutionary post. In 1780 General Francis Marion decided to capture the fort. Bombardment was out of the question, for the Americans were out of artillery, but Colonel Maham, one of Marion's officers, proposed building a log tower higher than Fort Watson. Hidden by the trees, men hewed logs and the tower was erected in a single night. At dawn a shower of lead poured down into the enemy enclosure, effecting a quick victory. The scheme was used several times in later Revolutionary encounters."

So this place was under a curse, not only the legendary curse of the indian girl deserted by her lover but also the curse of a people deserted by neighbors, the curse Jim Crow. And so this place was the site where other kinds of fighters in another kind of revolutionary war, fighters who were ministers and farmers and people of the land named JA and Mattie DeLaine, Levi Pearson and Harry and Liza Briggs, fighters who gave their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies to build a movement that was hidden in the South Carolina soil but that poured down on Jim Crow like a shower of lead from the sky, a Civil Rights Movement that would lead to victory over segregation in the South, though not as quickly as the victory of the old swamp fox Francis Marion and his compatriots.

As a writer, I am wandering the paths of the FWP writers, learning the stories, the people, and the land of my state in the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's, trying to see and feel through the eyes and hearts of two boys growing up on a farm during those times of great hope and great fear, wondering.


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