Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award

2023 Recipients

Emily H. Meggett

Artist Category | Gullah Geechee Chef | Edisto Island

by Amanda Malloy
McKissick Museum

Gullah Geechee chef EMILY H. MEGGETT, known by many as “M.P.,” was born on November 19, 1932 on Edisto Island, the place she calls “heaven on earth.”

Meggett grew up with her family on her grandparent’s farm, where they grew a wide variety of vegetables and also kept livestock for butchering. Meggett learned to cook traditional Gullah Geechee dishes with the ingredients grown on the farm, standing next to her grandmother, Elizabeth Major Hutchinson, whom she called “mama.”

Meggett learned more formal cooking in 1954 when she took a job at a summer home on Edisto Island owned by the Dodges, a white family from Rockport, Maine, who were in the oil business. Ms. Julia W. Brown, a Gullah woman, was the head chef of their family kitchen, and she was in charge of teaching Meggett how to prepare dishes correctly. Meggett recalls Ms. Julia telling her “You do it right or you do it over,” and true to her word, Ms. Julia would throw anything that wasn’t up to her standards straight into the trash can.

Meggett married Edisto native Jessie Meggett, with whom she had 11 children. They built a four-room home on one acre of land where she cooked for everyone in her family, and many more as she recalls, likely more than a hundred children in the area. To this day, Meggett wakes up around two o’clock in the morning with inspiration of what she wants to cook the next day. She cooks every day for her family, her neighbors, and anyone who might need a meal. When you see the door to her kitchen open, you know you’ll be fed—no money needed and no questions asked.

Meggett’s family and friends encouraged her throughout her life to share her recipes in a cookbook, but the idea perplexed her as she had never used one herself. But eventually her friend Becky Smith convinced her to start the long process. Every day Smith would visit Meggett where they would work on one recipe at a time, figuring out measurements, and documenting the process.

In April of 2022, Meggett’s cookbook, Gullah Geechee Home Cooking was published. The book, which was written with the help of food writer Kayla Stewart and oral historian Trelani Michelle, quickly became a New York Times bestseller. Meggett has received numerous accolades for her work, including the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award from President Joe Biden.

Hampton Rembert

Artist Category | Gospel Singing | Bishopville

Raised on a sharecropper farm in Bishopville, HAMPTON REMBERT has been singing gospel from a very young age. He learned with his family who would sing on Sundays and during family reunions. With little formal education, Rembert started working at the age of 13, plowing with his own mule all day with his father. At age 20 he married his wife Mabel and joined the church that he still attends today, Unionville AME Church in Mayesville.

Rembert was offered the job of assistant Sunday school superintendent at the church and was eventually promoted to superintendent. He held the position for 13 years before leaving to drive trucks, allowing him to see 28 different states. He continues to work today doing lawn services.

Rembert worked hard at his professions throughout his life, and he always sang. He has 10 living siblings with whom he grew up singing. When they were younger, they formed a gospel choir of up to 21 members at one point. They would travel to sing at a different church every Sunday evening in Lee and Sumter counties.

Singing is one of his greatest joys and an experience that connects him to his family and his faith, but his gift was threatened in 1998 after receiving a serious cancer diagnosis. One month after leaving the hospital from surgery he was diagnosed with another form of cancer and returned immediately for mouth and throat surgery. After that, there was a possibility that he would never talk, much less sing, again.

Yet at 85 years and 25 years since that diagnosis, he still sings twice a month at his church and as often as he can with his siblings. Rembert credits the power of prayer from his friends and family for his recovery eventually testifying at his church just three months after surgery, with no small contribution from his attitude and tenacity.