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The Fourth of July in Pin Point, Georgia

pin pointPin Point, Georgia

I know a place where July 4th has been a gathering of people for whom Freedom is never taken for granted. They live on a bluff overlooking a tidal estuary that can take them all the way to the open Atlantic if they choose, although the crabs, shrimp and oysters of which they are so fond don’t require going all that way.

Local seafood has kept them together, although it was an ill wind that brought them to this place. A series of severe hurricanes in the late 19th century drove them from the Georgia Sea Islands where they had been enslaved; the political vagaries of national politics had rendered them only tenants on the islands where they and their forebears had turned maritime forests into cotton and indigo plantations. They connected with a local entrepreneur who sold them the less valuable remnants of a plantation; the bluff with no deepwater anchorage, not wanted by the new resort-oriented upper-class whites, like the Roebling family of Brooklyn Bridge fame.

Harvesting the local seafood became economically feasible. John Anderson, a freedman from down the Georgia coast, married into one of the founding families and began the first low-technology seafood processing factory. The property for the local church was purchased for a dollar plus supplies of seafood. The seafood business provided incomes not only for the men who harvested the crabs and such, but employment for the women who prepared it for market. Eventually, a Savannah seafood distributor, A.S. Varn, decided on vertical integration of his business. He built a home and more sophisticated processing structures for crabs and oysters, on the bluff in Pin Point. He then broadened his marketing to include restaurants in Washington and New York.

Cara

Miss Clara Mabry of Pin Point, Georgia

In the years before the second World War, as children married and moved elsewhere, the Fourth of July became a homecoming celebration for kinship networks that had their roots in Pin Point. There were no parades, no fireworks, but there was a bountiful feast with many cooks, many seafood preparations: Low Country boil, deviled crab, red beans and rice, and an assortment of homemade beverages that filled the void made by the 19th Amendment. “People came in cars; they came in church buses. The whole community was one big picnic,” Clara Mabry remembers. “We have family reunions now, but this was one big get-together for everyone.”

As long as Mr. Varn lived, he welcomed the celebrations, although if the Fourth fell on a weekday, his workers put in their time. A day’s harvest of crabs had to be boiled that evening, cooled all night, and picked the next day. While the working women may have resented losing a day off, they knew their children would have had a wonderful time rediscovering cousins to play with, and aunts and uncles who would keep them in line. And there would be no evening meal to prepare. The workers could sit, eat, and chat into the late evening, while their exhausted kids were off to bed.

It was perhaps a simple way to observe a holiday that abolitionist Frederick Douglass said he could not bear to celebrate. For the descendants of former slaves, who had had the rare good fortune to remain an intact community from the time before freedom came to the early years of the 21st century, family closeness can be a celebration in itself. Despite everything the white world has imposed upon them, they persist.

The older folks with long memories are disappearing, but the memories are being preserved in the former Varn factory campus, now known as the Pin Point Heritage Museum. Visitors are guided through the buildings by descendants of the founding families who not only explain the factory functions, but tell great stories about their ancestors—true stories, funny stories, and stories of the hard times of men who plied the water in small boats, and the women whose hands were rough and scarred from picking crabs and shucking oysters.

The Pin Point Heritage Museum is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

I would like to thank Mr. Arthur Sams, as well as Miss Clara Mabry for their help in preparing this article.

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