Lowcountry Rice Culture Project executive director Dr. Kim Cliett Long (left) and Congressman James E. Clyburn (center) presented Emily Meggett (right) with the President's Volunteer Service Award July 22 at City Hall on Broad Street. | Photo by Chelsea Grinstead

Emily “Ms. Emily” Meggett, also known as the Matriarch of Edisto Island, received the President’s Volunteer Service Award today. The award honors her decades spent cooking meals from her home and offering hospitality to the Gullah-Geechee island community. 

“That’s what makes Ms. Meggett special — this culture was known by its food and then its speech, and she became an expert at the food,” Congressman James E. Clyburn said at the award ceremony Friday. “She became the network for making sure that everybody enjoyed the food.”

Congressman Clyburn and Lowcountry Rice Culture Project (LRCP) executive director Dr. Kim Cliett Long presented Meggett with the award Friday at City Hall on Broad Street. 

Mayor John Tecklenburg declared July 22 “Emily Meggett Day” on behalf of the city of Charleston. 

“From a young age, Ms. Emily knew to always prepare more than enough because you never know who might show up,” Mayor Tecklenburg said. 

“In her 20s, Emily went to work at Dodge’s Plantation and cooked under the supervision of one of Edisto Island’s most sought-after cooks, Miss Julia Brown,” he said. “For the next 50 years, Emily shared her love for cooking and passion for feeding people in her community and beyond.”

Jonathan Green, LRCP founder and international visual artist, presented both Meggett and Clyburn with commemorative talking sticks to honor their indigenous heritage and excellence in leadership. 

“‘I recognize no rights, but human rights; I know nothing of men’s rights and women’s rights,’” Green said in his presentation, quoting abolitionist Angelina Grimké.

LRCP, which nominated Meggett for the President’s Volunteer Service Award, started in 2010 as a means to raise awareness of the area’s rice-based economic history and promote conversations on culture. 

Meggett ended the ceremony with: “I say to you: Humble yourself. Listen, children. Always treat others with respect and be willing to give and expect nothing in return.”

Meggett’s cookbook Gullah Geechee Home Cooking: Recipes From the Matriarch of Edisto Island released April 26 chronicling not just 123 of her recipes but also her life — which is synonymous with Gullah heritage here in the Lowcountry. 

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