Slave Potter Dave
Leonard Todd's ancestors owned Potter Dave during America's slavery days. He tells some of the story and something about Dave's unprecedented pots and his poetry.
It's tough to think of anything more elemental than a hand-thrown clay pot. Imagine the potter, shaping the very stuff of the earth itself, transforming simple clay into artful shapes, both beautiful and useful.
Now, go a step further. Imagine the potter's hand's are black, and belong to a slave we know today as "Potter Dave." Your last imaginary step is recognizing that the history of Potter Dave's family is inextricably bound up with your own.
That is what Leonard Todd discovered. He is a writer and graphic designer, a former Fulbright Scholar, and a graduate of Yale. His latest book is called "Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave." After years as a New Yorker, he went back home to Edgefield, South Carolina.
"Like most Southerners, I had been raised with this sort of general knowledge that perhaps somewhere in the past, my family had owned slaves, but it was long ago, far away. There were no names. It was something that we just didn't think about very much. Here was something that I couldn't ignore. It was a man with a name and a story. And, in fact, a man very much like myself, " says Todd.
There was no one else like Potter Dave -- he was a slave that not only made pottery, but actaully signed them and wrote carefully crafted poems upon them. That was unheard of. "In all of the years of pottery in Edgefield, and Edgefield was the center of Southern pottery production, no slave had ever signed his name to his pots. And no one after Dave did either. So, he was unique in that sense.
"In addition to that, of course, he also wrote original poems on his jars, which is astonishing. And, especially, when you realize that in South Carolina for generations there had been great fear of slave literacy because it was thought by the slave owners of South Carolina that any education given to slaves would permit them to ask questions, to have ideas, to make decisions on their own, becoming thereby becoming less slaves and more of a danger to the status quo," explains Todd.
Support PRI when you purchase Leonard Todd's book "Carolina Clay: The Life and Legend of the Slave Potter Dave".
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