This book is the first extensive survey of African-American gardening traditions in the rural South. Richard Westmacott has recovered valuable data for those interested in African-American material culture and the history of vernacular gardens by creating measured drawings and physical inventories of African-American gardens in three geographic areas: the low country of South Carolina, the southern piedmont of Georgia, and the black belt of Alabama. The descriptions are enhanced by the author's personal interviews with the gardeners, in which the aesthetic qualities, designs, and purposes of their yards and gardens are documented. Westmacott traces the principal functions of African-American yards and gardens over the last two hundred years. During slavery, African-American gardens were used primarily to grow life-sustaining vegetables, often to raise some chickens and pigs. The yard of a crowded cabin was often the only place where the slave family could assert some measure of independence and perhaps find some degree of spiritual refreshment. Since slavery, working the garden for the survival of the family has become less urgent, but now pleasure is taken from growing flowers and produce and in welcoming friends to the yard. Similarities in attitude between rural southern blacks and whites are reflected in the expression of such values as the importance of the agrarian lifestyle, self-reliance, and private ownership. However, the patterns and practices in which these beliefs are manifested are uniquely African American.
Richard Westmacott is a professor of environmental design at the University of Georgia and lives in rural Georgia.
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