The City of Charleston is helping to usher in this year’s MOJA Arts Festival by officially proclaiming Sat. Sept. 29, 2018 as “Red Rice Day,” in honor of the traditional Gullah Geechee dish.
The proclamation, signed by Mayor John Tecklenburg and dated June 19, 2018, acknowledges the benefits that the brutal transatlantic slave trade brought to Charleston, such as the expert rice cultivation practiced by enslaved West Africans from the so-called “Rice Coast,” which stretches from Senegal to present-day Sierra Leone.
“Charleston, in addition to financial prosperity, also benefited from the culinary culture created by the enslaved Africans and their progeny,” the document reads. “Along with their knowledge of rice cultivation, the enslaved brought with them the recipe for a flavorful, tomato-based rice dish commonly known as jollof.”
The American interpretation of the dish, commonly known as Red Rice, is a source of pride for Gullah Geechee communities, descendants of enslaved Africans settled on the East Coast stretching from St. Johns County in Florida to Williamson, N.C., according to the proclamation.
The day was the brainchild of City Paper columnist, activist, and education professional KJ Kearney, who came to the idea while trying to think of a way to unify his community after this summer’s contentious slavery apology from Charleston City Council. Kearney also wanted to teach those unfamiliar with red rice about some of its contributions to the local cuisine.
“This was a way to promote what Charleston’s known for, food, and give a shoutout to people who helped make it a reality in the first place,” he said.
Kearney first thought of proposing a day to honor the South Carolina flag, a jab at those who revere the Confederate battle flag.
“But I ran that idea by some people and they were like, ‘I don’t know,'” he said. “I figured nobody could get mad at anybody for eating red rice.”
A pescatarian, Kearney says red rice is a dish that can be accommodated for anyone’s diet.
“That’s another unifying thing about red rice is that it can be prepared traditionally, with pork sausage or pork meat, but it can be prepared with crab meat, or shrimp meat, or you can make a vegetarian version with vegetable stock,” he says.
The dish and its new day will be discussed in two panel discussions this Saturday during the 35th annual MOJA Arts Festival, which celebrates African-American and Caribbean arts.
The first discussion will focus on modern day issues in the Gullah Geechee community and will include S.C. State University professor Dr. Jessica R. Berry, Harvard University Gullah language professor Sunn m’Cheaux, Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission Executive Director Heather Hodges, and Snowden Community Civic Association Youth Director Adrian Smalls-Owens.
The second event, composed of Gullah culinary expert Charlotte Jenkins, restaurateur Brian Washington, and Republic Garden executive chef Christopher Hyatt, will discuss Gullah Geechee cuisine.
The panels will begin at 1 p.m. You can reserve your seat at mojafestival.com. Keep the City Paper free We don't have a paywall. Each week's printed issue is free. We're local, independent and free. Let's keep it this way. Please consider a donation of $100 to keep the City Paper free. Donate: chscp.us
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