Minnie Kennedy had a story, and she told it well. I first met her in the summer of 2010, when I was producing a documentary on Hobcaw Barony for ETV’s series Carolina Stories. Minnie was 93 years old. From the moment the ETV crew and I pulled up to her house on Queen Street in Georgetown, she barely stopped talking. She showed us around her home, which was a kind of Minnie Kennedy museum – her hand-drawn map of Hobcaw Barony, where she was born in 1916, the granddaughter of slaves; the still-in-progress family tree; clippings of newspaper articles about her trip to the Obama inauguration; a book about her life. And once we sat down for an interview, her story poured out. The transcript is 24 pages long, single-spaced.
When I asked Minnie how she would like to be identified in the documentary she said, “I say my name is Minnie Kennedy, period!” She told me that she was a rebel from the moment of her birth, when she refused to let go of the midwife’s apron:
“She couldn’t pry my fingers apart, the midwife couldn’t, so my mother called my father in the room. ‘William come here, I think I got a witch!’ So when she told me the story I said, ‘Mom you didn’t have a witch, you had a rebel. I was telling you something, but you didn’t know what I was saying. I was telling you ‘put me back where I was I don’t want to be out here. It’s too dangerous out here.’ And that’s how I grew up. The rebel of the family. The rebel of the community.”
The Waccamaw Neck, where Hobcaw Barony is located, didn’t have electricity when Minnie was born, and the only way to get to Georgetown was by boat. After Bernard Baruch bought Hobcaw in 1905, most of the people living there – black and white – went to work for him. Minnie’s father, William Kennedy, became Baruch’s hunting guide, and her mother, Daisy Kennedy, was the Baruch family cook. Hobcaw Barony was the Baruchs’ winter vacation spot, and their visitors included the rich and famous, from politicians to journalists to artists. Sometimes the black children were expected to dance for these white guests, but Minnie refused. Always the rebel, she was determined not to be a “slave-minded individual,” and to get an education:
“I fought my way, and I don’t mean viciously, I would say, “You can’t speak to me that way,” even when I was little. One thing they made a mistake with me on that plantation, is to let me learn. That was a big mistake, because what I was learning, was to move, to grow. You couldn’t stay a baby forever. And you couldn’t stay uneducated forever.”
Minnie held people to their word. Bernard Baruch had promised her father he would pay her college tuition – she attended South Carolina State College – and when he didn’t, she wrote to remind him of his offer. Baruch sent her father a check, but added, “That Minnie sure is rude!”
Minnie Kennedy’s rebellious spirit led her far away from Hobcaw Barony. She left the Georgetown area as a young woman, moved to New York City and had a long career as a teacher, school principal and a civil rights activist. I don’t know exactly when she moved back to Georgetown, but I’m awfully glad I got to meet her. Minnie died on January 14, 2014, shortly after her 96th birthday. The story she told so well, and so truthfully, continues to be an invaluable account of her community and the life of an indomitable woman.