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What is the horrible history of haint blue?

Haint blue is a pale blue color used historically in the southern United States to paint porch ceilings and exterior doors. While its exact origins are unknown, haint blue has long been associated with warding off evil spirits in folklore. Let’s take a deep dive into the history and lore surrounding this curious color.

The Origins and Meaning of “Haint”

The term “haint” has its roots in African American vernacular of the Gullah culture, referring to a restless spirit or ghost. In the Gullah language, “haint” is a contraction of “hainted,” meaning haunted. Haints were believed to be spirits that had not successfully passed on to the afterlife and instead lingered on Earth to pester the living.

In particular, haints were thought to hover near the home, especially around entrances and windows. To deter these spirits from entering the home, Gullah tradition called for painting porch ceilings and doors a pale blue color known as “haint blue.”

Haint Blue and “Spirituals”

The connection between the color blue and warding off evil has origins in West African spiritual practices that traveled with slaves brought to the American South. Blue glass beads and fabrics were commonly used in West Africa to deter harmful spirits.

This spiritual practice manifested in the songs of African American slaves, who often referenced the color blue and its protective power in spirituals. Lyrics warned spirits to “keep away” and assured that blue would “keep me from evil.”

The Pale Blue Pigment

The pale blue pigment used in haint blue has murky origins. Some claim it originally came from a dye produced by processing indigo plants, while others say it was created using lime, milk, and other substances that could be easily obtained by slaves.

The precise hue of haint blue is somewhere between a sky blue and powder blue. It is light and bright enough to symbolize the heavens and ward off ghosts, but soft enough to be calming and inviting.

Haint Blue in Gullah Culture

In rural Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, Gullah communities maintained a strong tradition of haint blue well into the 20th century. It was critically important that a porch ceiling be painted haint blue before a new bride entered her home.

According to legend, failure to paint the porch ceiling would curse the couple with endless marital strife caused by haints invading their home and sowing discord. Many Gullah brides still perpetuate this tradition today.

Haint Blue in Modern Architecture

While the spiritual origins of haint blue may have faded over time, the soft blue hue remains popular in contemporary southern architecture. Haint blue porches and ceilings are often seen in Charleston, Savannah, and New Orleans.

Paint companies like Sherwin-Williams and Benjamin Moore now offer pre-mixed haint blue shades to appeal to southern homeowners and history buffs seeking to add a touch of regional charm.

Haint Blue in Pop Culture

References to haint blue have seeped into pop culture over the years. In music, the Indigo Girls have a song titled “Haint Blue” on their 2022 album Look Long. Lyrically, it focuses more on lost love than ghosts.

Haint blue also pops up from time to time in television and movies. The porch ceiling of Sookie Stackhouse’s home in HBO’s True Blood is painted haint blue, a nod to the show’s southern Gothic setting. It likewise appears in the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water.

Haint Blue Controversies

While many view haint blue as an intriguing slice of southern folklore and history, some critics argue it romanticizes a painful period of slavery, Jim Crow discrimination, and forced acculturation of African spiritual practices.

Additionally, some members of the Gullah community take issue with the commercialization and surface-level appropriation of their culture. The decision to paint something haint blue should take care to honor the origins and significance of the color.

The Enduring Allure of Haint Blue

Despite concerns over cultural appropriation, haint blue continues to fascinate paint manufacturers, architects, interior designers, and homeowners. Whether used to create a quintessential southern porch or simply a serene color palette, shades of haint blue remain popular across the United States and beyond.

Decade Key Event
18th century West African spiritual traditions connect blue with warding off evil spirits
Early 19th century Gullah culture emerges in Sea Islands, bringing “haint blue” tradition
Mid 19th century References to protective blue appear in lyrics of African American spirituals
Late 19th century Haint blue porches become common in Gullah communities
Early 20th century Haint blue persists in rural Gullah culture
Mid 20th century Haint blue referenced in songs by blues and folk artists
Late 20th century Haint blue begins appearing in commercial southern architecture
Early 21st century Haint blue widely used in movies, TV, advertising, and decor

As we’ve seen, haint blue has a complex history intertwined with slavery, folklore, spiritual practices, discrimination, and the enduring Gullah culture. Its origins may have been ominous, but haint blue has evolved into a popular decorating choice with a richer significance. When used respectfully, it reminds us of the resilience, artistry, and heritage of African Americans who imparted special meaning into a pale blue paint.