GREENE COLUMN: Dull dish teaches a lively lesson

Jonathan Green

If you are invited to Sunday dinner at a traditional African-American home, expect to eat some rice.

And if it’s at grandma’s, there will be lima beans, okra soup, cabbage or homemade brown gravy to go with it. Or maybe red, yellow or brown rice.

Mac and cheese, corn bread and fried or baked chicken and string beans are sure to make appearances.

Children and grands, old and young, and friends to boot, would stop by for a meal. Throw in some lively conversations and storytelling, and you have the after-church ritual that is Sunday Dinner.

But how many young people know why rice is such an integral part of black culture?

Local artist Jonathan Green wants to educate them, and he is onto a good idea.

His nonprofit Lowcountry Rice Culture Project, which he spoke of glowingly Friday at Heirloom Book Co., is about educating Lowcountry schoolchildren about the contributions of their ancestors.

Schoolchildren need to know that their ancestors were the experts who helped develop rice as a lucrative crop in the Lowcountry for more than 200 years, Green said.

Students are delighted when he tells them their African ancestors brought with them the rice knowledge that made Charleston and the Southeast rich. That knowledge boosts their self-esteem, he said.

Most young people don’t know their history, especially because little information is found in textbooks, he said.

The rice project aims to get more of that history into textbooks and to promote open and honest discussions using RICE as an acronym for Race, Ingenuity, Culture and Economy.

A number of local and state cultural and historical organizations are helping with research. In September 2013, a rice symposium will be held at the College of Charleston to talk about their findings.

Friday’s event, sponsored by Sarah Graham, promoted and helped to finance the project.

The rice project focuses on African-Americans’ skills and artistic contributions that helped to build a rice economy as opposed to focusing on them only as slaves, Green said.

Blacks built the rice fields that mark our landscape.

They built the infrastructure and beautiful architecture for which Charleston and the Lowcountry are noted. They even made the bricks, Green exclaimed.

Green was raised by his maternal grandmother in Garden’s Corner, and recalls her harvesting rice near Sheldon.

Grandmothers, he believes, are essential to the family structure and history.

“They prepare children for life.” They introduce them to culture and stories of life in the Lowcountry.

They must continue to tell children about their history, and the rice project will provide a clearer picture of how blacks contributed to the construction, art, culture and foods of the Lowcountry.

And at the dinner table on Sunday over a plate of rice is still a great place to do that.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555 or