Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hemingway, SC - When Cotton Was King

There are things about the American South, things born of inequality and contrast, pain and poverty, ugliness and decay, that I only knew from words, not from my heart.

I want you to see the two South Carolinas, two American Souths, that I am getting to know
and the juxtaposition that is both stunning and moving. 

The very, very rich.  The very, very poor.   

On the one hand the slow and elegant beauty of the plantations, the huge houses of the merchants in Georgetown, built in the 1700s and still owned and kept immaculately 
by the wealthiest citizens.  
On the other hand, lives of extreme poverty and ugliness.

I've never been immersed in the contrast between Black and White that exists here.  
Traveling a few blocks in town or a few miles out into rural areas, you plunge down the social scale and drop back 75 years in time.   

* * *
Just up Hwy 51, Hemingway was built in the early 1900s when cotton was king and there were plenty of jobs for Black farmers.  When the boll weevil appeared on the scene in 1921, tobacco tried to take cotton's place, along with a few small textile industries that flourished for a while and provided some jobs to former farm workers.   Now even those jobs have gone to Mexico and Vietnam and China and there are only 500 people left in Hemingway, most of them African-Americans.
Hemingway stands like hundreds of small towns in the rural South 
with the same fate, in a time warp, its citizens living as they always have, without jobs, 
while the world has passed them by.


The small travel trailer behind the abandoned dairy truck is someone's home.  
Trailers are the most common form of housing in the rural areas and many of them are ancient and collapsing, with the ubiquitous blue tarps for roofs.
Families have lived here for generations, from slave times. At Emancipation, freed slaves were deeded a piece of land to farm.  Now farming is gone and the land has filled up with the trailers of four or five generations of their descendants.  Called "heirs property," today each piece is owned jointly by every single descendant of the original owner, whether they live there, pay taxes, or have never set foot on it.  
Listed as one of the main industries in Hemingway, in the center of town, 
is Don's Car Crushing.  

Lots of junked construction equipment and in the foreground, a dentist chair


 A hearse awaits its turn in the crusher amidst piles of crushed materials, a chute that takes the parts to large containers on the right, to be loaded on ships or railroad cars and recycled.


  1. When we took our trip through southern states in January we saw that same divide. Rich - white, poor - black. It's appalling.

  2. I will watch and read with bated breath what "Turnip Top" does for these fellow Americans.
    I think this place might just be overlooked.
    Great report Cynthia.

  3. Wherever you go there's an interesting story.

  4. It's not pretty is it. It's not just slavery that has caused such divides. We have something similar in New Zealand - as probably do many countries. It is self perpetuating.

  5. It really make me sad.. :( :( :(..

  6. Looking at your photos i think Europe is richer but a lot of poor live on russia

  7. Looking at your photos i think Europe is richer but a lot of poor live on russia

  8. Interesting post. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
    I have a collection of books 'fiction' but know doubt correct in many parts of them about slavery and the white man. I expect today they would be banned or out of print.

  9. A beautifully written piece Cynthia. I can guess the divide tweet the 'haves and the have nots' will only continue to grow wider...very sad.

    1. Grr auto text changed between to tweet! Heaven forbid!!!

  10. You are a very keen observer Cynthia, a moving post about the differences between jobless people and the lucky ones.

  11. Good post. I think a lot of rural areas in the country are like this, black and white and Latino. The abject poverty also makes drug and addiction abuse common, a terrible sense of a meaningless life, very poor education and a real sense of hopelessness. No politician really cares about this problem. It is foreign to them. I don't know if or how this can be fixed. It is very sad.

  12. I have never been to SC, but I like reading about it through your eyes and heart.

  13. Buy some catfish!! I see the same things here on the neighboring Indian Reservation. :(

  14. Racism still rears it's ugly head then and now. But the stars & bars came down off the State Capitol. S. C. Too small to be a Republic Too large to be an insane asylum....

  15. Hello Cynthia. I happen to come across your article while researching Hemingway, my mother's hometown. I'm in search of a simpler life and have thought about relocating to the area. I'm not retired though; still in the midst of my working years with young children. Do you live near Hemingway. I'd be interested in learning more about your observations...the social/economic divide, the mentality of the residents. It's been over three years since you wrote this post. I'd like to believe change is happening, albeit slowly. From what I've read, there's a new mayor with great ideas and surrounding areas, like Lake City, have made strides with economic development. Thanks in advance.

    1. We live about 30 miles from Hemingway. Since we only drive through occasionally, I don’t know the local plans or politics. There are other small towns in this area that have a much more inviting ambiance. Lake City is a delightful small town that is growing and prospering, thanks to an infusion of investment and money by a wealthy resident. Good luck in your search!