Near-perfect November weather and the smell of ribs on the smoker and fish in the fryer drew in a large crowd for this year’s Ricefest on Saturday in Riceboro.
Following a long parade that included sports cars, ATVs and horse riders, families from Liberty and Long counties gathered in the field next to city hall for cultural education, live music, and fun and food — lots of food.
Liberty County Commissioner Marion Stevens, who said he has worked with the Ricefest every year, thought the crowds before noon were much larger than usual.
“I live in Midway; this looks like a little bit larger crowd than last year. I think that means more people are interested in the history of Riceboro,” said Stevens, noting that he still participates in community activities. “I know all the city council members and city administrative staff members have worked hard and done a great job putting this one together.”
In addition to a live band filling the air with jazz music, the air also was filled with smoke from about two dozen smokers plus fish fryers.
People young and old waited in line for a plate of ribs, fish or crabs. Sugar cane also was available.
Lloyd Byrd, a retired soldier and native of Riceboro, ran a booth he called “Come to you BBQ.” The name was fitting; the savory smell of smoke from his ribs and fish had Franklin Brown and Kanethe Stevens busy keeping up with orders.
“This is the first year I’ve been able to do this,” said Byrd, who said he’d only recently retired and come home. “I spent 27 years in the Army, and you know, I never could get the Army to assign me here at Fort Stewart.”
One booth that displayed rice featured Meredith Coxe and her son, Campbell, displaying a variety of rice produced on Carolina Aromatic Rice Plantation in Darlington, S.C.
She said theirs was the first commercially-produced rice in South Carolina since 1965.
It was not all food, though.
Riceboro has a rich, even tragic history with rice and the rice plantations that once gave Coastal Georgia the nickname “empire.” Gregg Grant with Geechee Kunda talked to residents interested in learning about the area’s history and the horrors of the slave trade.
“I’m a genealogist,” he told one man interested in finding out about his own family heritage. “I can tell you that you won’t find all the information you need (on the Internet). You have to do the leg work. You have to go to the libraries and the cemeteries.”
Grant explained that slave traders knew something about each of the areas where they were capturing slaves in West Africa.
He said they knew, for example, natives in the area of Sierra Leone were rice planters, so they “targeted” them for their slave ships.
He talked at length about the cruelty inflicted up those captured even before they reached this country to be worked as slaves.
Grant said two slaves were shackled together then they were stacked like cord wood, laying one atop another, three or four high.
One man asked what the slaves did when they had to use the bathroom while another man mentioned seasickness. Grant commented that people could smell slave ships 20 miles away.