WORDS & ART: AMIRIO FREEMAN
Tucked away in a small corner of South Carolina is a patch of land that I recognize as being my maternal grandfather’s garden. A tiny, “beautiful” monument that is sometimes visited by a band of stray cats.
During many childhood summers, I’d watched “Granddaddy”—in his signature uniform of faded shorts, shades, shirt, and wide-brimmed straw hat—become a magician in his modest plot of soil. From his back porch, I often observed him water and coax the earth with love, care, and a reverence reserved for familial elders, leading him to later conjure everything from okra to “greens” to squash to cucumbers from seemingly nothing, from thin air. Leafy, supple, green, lush, rotund vegetables cultivated year after year. Even today, my grandfather still manages to produce a garden that is as gloriously colored as his skin.
My grandfather’s garden is a statue, a monument, and a testament to the fact that I come from a people whose audacity to survive rivals that of marble or concrete.
Granddaddy’s garden has become something of a permanent fixture not only within my memory but also within my family. Seemingly atemporal, like it has always existed without a discernible beginning, my grandfather’s garden is an extension of my family’s collective identity, mythology, and consciousness. The garden has served as a meeting place, for casual grown folks talk and childhood games played among cousins. The garden is a generous source of life, as its fruits (jarred, pickled, raw, or cooked) have fed and sustained myself and those with whom I share blood. And my grandfather’s garden is a statue, a monument, and a testament to the fact that I come from a people whose audacity to survive rivals that of marble or concrete. A people who cannot “be comparably replaced.” Such a monument, such a use of space, is dangerous in South Carolina, whose geography is molded and haunted by long-gone slave markets and still-standing objects that commemorate “heritage.”
According to the stories passed down to me, Granddaddy’s father—J.B. Singletary—had a farm, upon which my grandfather and his siblings sweated and worked. In my head, I can imagine Granddaddy, with the sheen of youth, tending to my great-grandfather’s farm: still brown-skinned, towering, placid, statue-esque, but more toned, more agile, poorer, satiating the needs of a cadre of farm animals and breaking his back under an oppressive sun to achieve agricultural alchemy (allowing him to amass the knowledge needed to create his own future garden). In order to make money for his family. In order to make the best of life at the bottom of America’s enduring racial caste system. In order to use generational knowledge to survive and thrive, despite having an ingrained understanding that so much of the world is waiting for you to crumble—to be weathered away by wind, rain, and indomitable whiteness. Granddaddy’s garden, an appendage of his father’s farm, stands as a site that remembers, nods to, and symbolizes the enduringness of Black life. My grandfather’s garden intrudes upon and takes root in America’s landscape of whiteness to say I was here, I’m still here, and I’ll continue to be here.
Our bodies are “our beautiful statues and monuments” that have been erected and unmoved despite being situated in the most hostile and infertile of soils.
By association, my grandfather, when hunched over masses of vines and leaves and stems and roots, is himself a monument to the endurance of Blackness. Through weeding, through uprooting, through harvesting, through practicing the actions of his father, and through just living and being in his refuge of soil, Granddaddy’s body transforms into a reminder that Black folk are not ruins, eroded stones, or sun-bleached skulls. In the face of agents and systems of white supremacy that are dedicated to removing the “beauty” of Black bodies from “our cities, towns and parks” via forces invisible and explicit, my grandfather’s body—and all Black bodies—are firm structures that reify the existence of Blackness every day. Black bodies are hefty and weighty with presence, constantly traversing public spaces to disrupt attempts to erase the imprint of Black people in America. Our bodies are “our beautiful statues and monuments” that have been erected and unmoved despite being situated in the most hostile and infertile of soils. We’re structures that shimmer like bronze, gleam like onyx, or that exude warmth like terra cotta. And, like my grandfather’s garden, the places we create and reside in, from our porches to churches to beauty salons, force the world to acknowledge that it will always be in close proximity to us and our grandeur.