Episode 27 – Sweetgrass Baskets – South Carolina Quarter

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Sweetgrass Baskets
South Carolina State Quarter

Photo – U.S. Mint


Sweetgrass Baskets – South Carolina Quarter have something in common. Both carry the legacy of a people and their culture; from the West Coast of Africa to the South Carolina Low Country. Each Palmetto frond woven into a row of a Sweetgrass baskets holds the culture, traditions, values and strength of the Gullah people of South Carolina.

There are traditions and cultural norms passed down from generation to generation. We often call it their legacy. The definition of a legacy according to Britannica is “something that happened in the past or that comes from someone in the past.”

Well the word legacy is used very often to acknowledge ways of life, traditions, and significant things people did that are carried on and honored by people living their lives today. 

I often use the word legacy to acknowledge the long-lasting impact and influence of events, actions or traditions passed from generation to generation; those things that help define a culture.  

And, what is a culture? I’ve always loved the definition of my professor of International studies’ Dr. Milton Bennett- “the learned and shared values, beliefs, and behaviors of a community of interacting people”  Culture includes language, food, dress, music, arts, literature, and the group’s customs, beliefs, attitudes, and the values of the interacting people.

Culture and traditions can be passed on as a legacy not only from generation to generation, but also from country to country.

Sweetgrass Baskets

Corey Alston holds sweetgrass and a basket he is sewing.

On this podcast I feature the sweetgrass baskets – from West Africa to South Carolina – I tell their story with the help and knowledge from Corey Alston, a speaker, Sweetgrass Basket Weaver, Gullah historian and culture representative. Corey shares his story, the story of his family, and the history of Gullah Basket Weavers.

The story of a basket is not always what we think of as having a strong legacy; one that binds cultures, struggles, triumphs, traditions in work done by a people, as well as their cultural art. A simplicity of beauty that reaches far beyond the beautiful craft, to a people who have sustained some of the hardest conditions placed on men and women -to be enslaved. To be taken from their homeland, their country and family, but what could not be taken is a tradition that has lived on from generation to generation, passed from family member to family member – the Sweetgrass basket is a testament to that strength and legacy.   


U.S. Mint Photo


On the reverse or tail side of the South Carolina State Quarter released in 2000, you’ll find an outline of the state which is also called  “The Palmetto State” with four symbols, a star representing Columbia, the state’s capital, a Palmetto tree, the Carolina Wren – the state bird, and the Yellow Jessamine.

It is a story of the Palmetto tree that we will share on this episode. The Palmetto State, is known for it’s Palmetto trees. And, that tree is part of the tradition of Sweetgrass baskets.  

But let’s start at the beginning because the baskets are not called Palmetto baskets, they are called Sweetgrass baskets. I had a long and educational conversation with Corey Alston where he shares information about the history of sweetgrass baskets, the traditions and the legacy.  

Listen to our conversation – Sweetgrass Baskets and South Carolina Quarter

Contact Corey for one of his Sweetgrass baskets 

After listening I’m sure you will be ready to plan a trip to Charleston and meet Corey. To start planning your trip to Charleston visit the website – explorecharleston.com

When visiting Charleston, make sure to visit the historic plantations, where the skilled and knowledgable enslaved Africans worked and passed on the traditions that you can still find in the Charleston City Market and along Highway 17 in Mount Pleasant. 

To learn more about the U.S. Mint and their commemorative quarters programs, visit the website USMint.Gov

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Reach in your pocket, or your sofa cushion and you’ll find a quarter waiting for you to explore. Flip it over and Quarter Miles Travel will take it from there; we’ll help you turn that quarter into an adventure. 


Sweetgrass baskets South Carolina quarter

Corey is surrounded by basked he has made as he works on another creation.  Photo – Corey Alston


Sweetgrass baskets South Carolina Quarter

Fanner baskets were used in the processing of rice on the Antebellum plantations. Corey mentions that these baskets were mostly woven by women and used to clean, and chaff harvested rice. By the early 1800’s, grain cleaning mills, known as winnowing houses largely replaced Fanner baskets. Although the baskets remained an important part of plantation work-life and daily routines. Today Fanner baskets are considered prized collector’s items, especially those that are preserved from use by enslave Africans.  Sweetgrass baskets – once agricultural tools – today an artistic symbol of pride, legacy and culture.    Photo – Corey Alston


Sweetgrass baskets South Carolina quarter

Fanner baskets like the one Corey is holding were used by enslave African who worked on the Southern plantations, in particular the rice plantations. West Africans who knew how to plant, cultivate and harvest rice were especially valued by plantation owners. They not only brought the knowledge of cultivating rice from West Africa, but also knowledge and skills to make woven baskets. These shallow baskets were made of coils of Bulrush grass and used to remove the rice grains from the husks. This process happened after the rice was pounded in a a large wooden mortar with a large pole pestle to loosen the husk and chaff from the grains of raw rice. Afterwards rice grains were placed in Fanner baskets and tossed in the air from sometimes from one basket into another or tossed in a single basket. As the wind blew, the chaffs would blow away. The original Fanner were larger than most you’ll find today. Some were more than three feet or more in diameter. Modern Fanner baskets are made with Sweetgrass and Palmetto fronds and are considered very valuable art work and a sense of price, tradition and legacy of the Gullah and Geechee culture along the Low Country region of the Carolinas and Georgia. The area is part of the National Park Service Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor which includes the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. Photo – Corey Alston

Sweetgrass basket South Carolina quarter

Photo on left of wooden mortar and pestle from West Africa and on the right a photo taken shortly after slavery with women pounding grain. The rice was pounded to remove the hard outer husk and transferred to the Fanner baskets for chaffing.  Photo – Cookbook – The Foods From Georgia’s Barrier Islands.

Photo from the Cookbook – The Foods From Georgia’s Barrier Islands. The photos show scenes of a woman with a Fanner basket willowing rice, workers in a rice field, Carolina Gold Rice up-close, and a group of enslaved workers photographed outside of a building.


Sweetgrass baskets South Carolina quarter

Corey’s baskets shows how the craft has become a beautiful and highly prized and sought after art form. Photo – Corey Alston


Baskets are made today  can also include pine needles for color and contrast adding to the artist beauty. The Palmetto tree can be seen in the background.  Photo – Corey Alston


Sweetgrass baskets South Carolina quarter

The beauty and artistry of weaving Sweetgrass and Palmetto fonds has lead to the creation of wearable art. Photo – Corey Alston


Sweetgrass Baskets South Carolina quarters

You can find Corey and his sister Carlene at the Charleston City Market with a large selection of baskets. He also makes custom baskets. Photo – Corey Alston 


Sweetgrass baskets South Carolina quarters

Be on the lookout for Corey’s picture. He is a very highly regarded and valued part of Charleston’s story and Gullah culture, and history. Photo – Corey Alston


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