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2009 Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Awards
An ambassador for the textile industry in and around Piedmont, Donald Roper is also the area historian. A self-described “linthead” for his upbringing on Cotton Mill Hill, Roper speaks fondly of his years in the mill village. He shines a positive light on the textile industry, proclaiming that it provided jobs and social benefits to families in the community.
Roper is an avid builder and collector of toys and other objects created from leftover mill parts. His most memorable is the gear-wheel wagon, made from various mill scraps like pick gears and other odds and ends from textile machines. He maintains, however, that children were not the only mill residents to benefit from spare mill parts. Adults often found ways to improve their homes and yards using a variety of surplus pieces as well. Roper can often be found sharing his mill town stories and relics with students at regional schools, as well as in other venues, such as the annual Footbridge Festival.
A former sports reporter, Roper has served the community under the pen name of “Saluda Sam,” keeping readers informed of special events and local sporting news. In 1997, he volunteered to become a member of the first “Institute of Community Scholars,” managed by the S.C. Arts Commission’s Folklife and Traditional Arts Program, and soon began sharing his documentation of the life and work of Piedmont mill owner, Albert Rowell.
Within a year, Roper had completed a booklet about Rowell’s life and the local community. He also helped to transform Piedmont’s community building into a local mill village museum by assembling community memorabilia and making traditional mill toys from lumber and metal scraps.
In 2002, Roper was recognized for 50 years of service in the textile industry. A year later, he received the Piedmont Community Achievement Award for his service and contributions to the community. He is a member of the Executive Council for the University of South Carolina Society and is a lifetime member of the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina.
A community partner with Penn Center for more than 20 years, Legree contributes to the oral history and folklife of the Gullah people by demonstrating the craft of cast net weaving as a presenter at the Center’s annual Heritage Days Celebration. For decades Legree has demonstrated the connection between Gullah culture in South Carolina and West African art forms to dozens of groups of all ages.
Legree was born April 4, 1924, the second of Joseph Legree Sr. and Geneva Brown Legree’s 14 children. He attended Frogmore School until third grade, when he began working the fields to help support his parents and siblings. He learned how to crab from his father, and began working the river by the time he was seventeen.
He learned the art of cast net making from a fellow St. Helena resident, Mr. Harry Owens, when they worked together on an oyster boat. Legree weaves nets for fishing and shrimping and bases the size of the net on the height of the caster. Admiration for Legree’s skill led local author Pierre McGowan to include him in two books about life on the barrier islands.
Nearing 85, Legree has survived both his wives, Jannie Holmes Legree and Clara Byas Legree, and is the father of 6 living children. Legree has 23 grandchildren and 30 great-grandchildren. While one of his nephews and one grandson have learned how to partially construct a net, none of his family members have fully cultivated Legree’s skill. He would like to ensure a family member is able to construct a cast net from start to finish. Fortunately, one of Legree’s grandsons has shown an interest in learning the art form and hopes to begin working as his apprentice this summer.
Today, Legree volunteers much of his time driving family and friends to appointments and other activities. He still spends time on the water, but now he does it for pleasure rather than necessity. Though he lives independently, he takes pride in being surrounded by family. He still finds joy in making cast nets and sharing his recipes at family gatherings.
About the Folk Heritage Awards
- 2017 Recipients
- 2017 Ceremony
- Past Recipients
- Awards Legislation
(How To Use PDFs)
- Folk Heritage Awards Home
For more information about the Folk Heritage Awards, please contact Laura Marcus Green (803-734-8764), South Carolina Folklife & Traditional Arts Program Director.