Cornhuskin’ is an annual tradition at Meredith with a racist history that has been a topic of discussion across campus in the past couple of years. Meredith student Camryn Way, ‘22, has been discussing her concerns with the origin of Cornhuskin' and its name with Dr. Daniel Fountain, Professor of History. The Herald reached out to Way for more information on Cornhuskin’ and its history.
Way started off by acknowledging that she is “aware of the archives explaining what was ‘meant’ by the term Cornhuskin’ originally.” She explained that Doris Peterson, a former associate professor in the Physical Education Department, started the event on Oct. 30, 1945, where it was called the “Corn Huskin' Bee.” This name remained for about a decade.
According to the Meredith College Archives, the original intentions behind Cornhuskin’ were to have “Halloween themes and [to be] considered a Halloween/fall celebration as well as a way to honor the freshmen.”
However, Way explained that Cornhuskin’s name ties back to American slavery. “Corn husking and/or shucking festivals date back into the late 18th century and were a way plantation owners sought to speed up the corn-husking process so that their slaves could return to work in the fields,” she said. “Slaves were encouraged to compete—typically in teams—to see who could shuck the most corn on the plantation. Slaves then celebrated with a feast and a dance.”
Way said she has issues with the use of Cornhuskin’s name at Meredith for a few reasons. “Calling a festival ‘Corn Huskin’ has a similar feeling to having a cotton-picking festival once a year,” she said. “The word itself is not, in its own right, distasteful, but it certainly should not be used in any way that references slavery.”
“Another huge issue I take up with the use of this name is how Meredith unintentionally hides its true meaning within the media. If you were to simply search ‘Corn Huskin Festival’ online, information about this widely known plantation festival is often hidden behind Meredith College’s [Corn]huskin’ information,” Way said. “It can often take three to four pages of searching to actually find mention of the true connotations. Meredith College has contributed to burying…the meaning of this word.”
Way has asked classmates if they know where the term Cornhuskin’ comes from, and most “stated it was a festival at our school and something we ‘had to experience’...not a single one of them had any idea of the alternative meaning to corn shucking festivals.”
“It is genuinely appalling to me that in this era of social change and racial deconstruction, we are still utilizing words that had the meaning of shackling down and restraining under the guise of enjoyment and pleasure. I implore you all not to change your traditions but to alter the meaning by switching the name,” Way stated.
Way also referenced information that Dr. Fountain told her and another student who is also conducting research under the supervision of the Office of Student Leadership and Service (SLS). Way noted that the Belonging Panel the School of Arts and Humanities held in 2020 discussed many of the “changes the college has gone through…[and] some early racial
conditions and attitudes present in NC during the college's first decades.”
For more information on Cornhuskin’, visit the Meredith College Archives in the Carlyle Campbell Library and view the Belonging at Meredith Panel on the Meredith College School of Arts and Humanities Facebook page.
By Freya Dahlgren, Opinion Editor