Enslaved Africans and African Americans cultivated rice along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida for nearly 200 years. Many came from regions in West Africa with long histories of rice farming. They cleared the land of timber and constructed intricate hydraulic systems of levees, dikes, floodgates, ditches, and drains. The transformation of the landscape is an engineering marvel that demonstrates their knowledge, skill, and capacity. Despite brutal conditions, generations of enslaved rice growers continued West African traditions in the Americas. Gullah Geechee traditions of arts, crafts, cuisine, music, and language profoundly influenced Southern culture.
These aerial images by photographer David Soliday show fields from North Carolina to Georgia. They highlight the extreme impact of this system on the natural environment. Generations of enslaved individuals used their specialized skills to transform the Eastern seaboard. Today development threatens to overtake the fields they created.