Scott Graber

I take issue with the sweeping generalizations 


It is Saturday, early, and I’m in my grey-painted study. I have my coffee and a view of several portraits done of me, my wife, and a long-dead ancestor. The last portrait is slowly losing its image, falling particles forming a layer of dust on the bottom of the frame. 

This morning there is no newspaper so I have to make do with a New Yorker story titled “The Swamp.” Many of you have already read this retelling of the Murdaugh family saga. But this column is not about Murdaugh or his family, although I did know Buster Murdaugh, the Solicitor, when I first began to practice law. 

James Lasdun has done a fair job of repackaging the cyclone of tragedy and controversy that now surrounds Mr. Murdaugh. But in the process he also describes South Carolina’s Lowcountry. 

“Fanning and I met in Hampton and drove toward the Combahee River, crisscrossing swamps where he had often fished and camped. Logging trucks plied the narrow blacktop. The scrawny logs strapped on the flatbeds, Fanning told me, were loblolly pines that had been grown for pulp — ‘a nasty industry.’” 

Mr. Lasdun continues his lengthy paragraph saying; 

“He laid out a stark history of the region. Rice plantations, dependent on slave labor, had given way to cotton, corn and soy — crops that depleted the soil. The land, further leached of nutrients by chemical fertilizers was eventually too poor for much besides loblolly pines, clusters of which stood on the flat scrub awaiting the chainsaw. With the loss of agricultural jobs, local lawmakers struggled to allow other industries. Medical waste disposal, tire grinding and other occupations joined the logging and pulping trades.” 

So here, with admirable brevity, Mr. Lasdun summarizes the topography, economy and soil quality of Colleton, Hampton, Jasper and parts of Beaufort County. As I reread his descriptions I thought how these words would compliment most of the B-roll imagery offered-up by HBO, Netflix, CourtTV and the other streamers who are currently telling their version of the Murdaugh saga. 

Mr. Lasdun, however, wants to make it clear that he is not one of those writers who flies in, interviews a camouflage and Carhartt-wearing local, then describes a Third World hellscape from the comfort of a West Side walk-up. 

“I was trying to avoid what Faulkner called the outsiders eagerness to believe anything about the South not even provided it be derogatory but merely bizarre enough. In particular I wanted to resist any idea of the ongoing saga as a tale of some purely gothic malevolence.” 

Those of us who live in this strange place know that parts of Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton and Hampton counties are, indeed, vast pine forests that will be eventually transformed into craft paper, particleboard and newspaper. We also know that just behind the billboards featuring a ubiquitous lawyer who claims, “I will fight for you,” there is a huge tract called the ACE Basin — 350,000 acres that is one of the last untouched, unsullied ecosystems on the Atlantic Ocean. 

And yes, we know that most of the cotton has departed this area. Instead this topography supports small, neat houses clustered in communities called Green Pond, Yemasee, Early Branch and Cottageville. And yes, in years past these modest FHA-financed houses may have had a chained pit bull in the front yard. 

We know many of the folks who live in the red-brick houses in Ridgeland and Estill commute to the Georgia State docks in Savannah. Many living in the double-wides near Green Pond and Pocotaligo ride a darkened bus to golf course and hospitality jobs on Hilton Head Island. Those living in Jacksonboro and Ravenel drive in the early morning darkness to kitchens at Husk, Hank’s and Slightly North of Broad. 

And so I take issue with the sweeping generalization that these Lowcountry folk are “insanely poor” and “there’s no industry aside from suing people.” (I should point out that these two last quotes are attributed to a third person.) All of which reminds us of the “Praying For Sheetrock” people who once populated McIntosh County, Ga., in the 1970s. 

While some served on juries that returned big verdicts, I take issue with the notion that everyone is these parts is similar to the rapacious thieves in Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn.” Lastly, I take issue with the notion that South Carolina “has an incredibly corrupt ruling class …” 

I do realize I may be in the minority on that item. 

Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at cscottgraber@gmail.com. 

Previous Story

Nichols case hits closer to home for some than others 

Next Story

If you keep building it, they’ll keep coming 

Latest from Contributors

The end around

Developer buys Pine Island, plans for 3 separate 6-hole golf courses, gated community By Tony Kukulich

Lowcountry Lowdown

By Lolita Huckaby Tropeano introduces himself to County Council BEAUFORT Elvio Tropeano, formerly of Boston and

A feel good story

By Carol Lucas Recently I happened upon an article which highlighted the efforts of three high