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Gullah History: Son Documents Mother’s Return to New Cut Plantation

Gullah History: Son Documents Mother’s Return to New Cut Plantation

Dentist-entrepreneur Shawn Mitchell is first and foremost Mattie and Edward Mitchell’s son – one of six sons known as “The Mitchell Men.” Edward, a retired longshoreman, instilled a love for God, family and commitment to goals with Mattie, a schoolteacher who worked as a seamstress in off hours. The Mitchells also raised their sons with a strong sense of community service. Mitchell family values led Shawn Mitchell and his five brothers – Edward, Kevin, Ryan, Julian and Trevor – to attend and graduate from SC State University and pursue graduate and professional studies. 

Gullah History: Son Documents Mother’s Return to New Cut Plantation

Gullah History: Son Documents Mother's Return to New Cut Plantation

Mrs. Mattie Mitchell taught them about Gullah history and Black historical figures like Denmark Vesey as well as the nuances of Gullah culture such as the meaning of the Palmetto Rose, which is prominent in the brothers’ SweetGrass Clothing Company brand and in Shawn Mitchell’s dental practice logo. In fact, it is the Palmetto Rose (watch crafting here), made from sweetgrass leaves, that moved Shawn and his brothers to form the clothing company as a way of furthering its significance as a symbol of love and protection in the Gullah community. Because of her, the family has observed Kwanzaa for over 30 years, and assisted with an annual Black History Bowl hosted by Mrs. Mitchell, a graduate of Claflin University and proud member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. As a result of all that she instilled in them, she has the distinction of being “The Mother of SweetGrass Clothing,” as both a muse (their Denmark Vesey Insurrection Jacket is dedicated to her) and an authentic Gullah voice. 

Gullah History: Son Documents Mother's Return to New Cut Plantation

In one of the most touching tributes to their mother, Shawn wrangled family members and they took her back to New Cut Plantation on the New Cut River, where she grew up on Wadmalaw Island (the movie “The Notebook” was filmed there). Enlisted to help tell the plantation’s story are island historian Frank Murray, Mrs. Mitchell with her siblings and descendants of former owner Edward Rutledge, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Mrs. Mitchell’s father, John Mack, Sr., was a sharecropper on the land. She left in 1970 to attend college and the family moved off the land. Shawn Mitchell served as writer and director of the documentary, Our return to New Cut Plantation: A family’s journey to a not so distant past, and Junior Ray contributes the soundtrack.  

The tributes don’t stop with Mrs. Mitchell. They continue with the wonderful SweetGrass Artisan Series, which features interviews with fourth and fifth generation sweetgrass basket weavers/sewers and small business entrepreneurs. A great part of the Mitchell Men’s SweetGrass brand is its visual interest coupled with history. Subscribe to the SweetGrass Clothing Company’s YouTube channel (@sweetgrassclothing) to watch other videos produced by the company. More videos can be found on their Facebook page. Follow them on Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter (@sweetgrassclothing) for collection announcements, pop-up shopping, collaborations and upcoming community-centric events. Lastly, don’t forget to SHOP SweetGrass!

youtube.com/watch?v=rlYclVo3Ylc

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Robin Caldwell

Robin Caldwell is the blogger behind freshandfriedhard.com and academic researcher focusing on Black history, heritage and culture. Public historian primarily in Black American historical foodways: antebellum and regional.

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Robin Caldwell

Robin Caldwell is the blogger behind freshandfriedhard.com and academic researcher focusing on Black history, heritage and culture. Public historian primarily in Black American historical foodways: antebellum and regional.

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