Welcome to the August 2019 newsletter of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. Thanks for being part of the important work of helping to preserve and share Gullah Geechee history and culture in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
We're honored to share that the Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation has awarded the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor $95,000 to support our work. The new funding will be used to help us become better advocates for our Gullah Geechee heirs property owners around land ownership preservation and conservation challenges. We'll also be investing in our ability to partner with Gullah Geechee communities and heritage sites to systematically grow sustainable Gullah Geechee heritage tourism in our National Heritage Area. We thank the Foundation for their critical, financial support for preserving the important heritage of the Gullah Geechee people by helping us to address these systemic land loss and economic development issues.
Many thanks also to everyone who joined us on August 17 at our North Carolina public meeting to tell us about the important work they are doing to share and preserve the state's rich Gullah Geechee heritage. Our hosts at Poplar Grove plantation had exhibits up which detailed how they are diligently trying to document the lives of the Gullah Geechee people who lived on the plantation -- before and after Emancipation. We were honored that one of the descendants was able to join us. Poplar Grove also gave us a tour of the big house to explain how they are changing their interpretation to better educate visitors about the wide range of ways enslaved contributed to the household -- including building the house and crafting its elaborate, decorative features. We also learned more about the role Gullah Geechee people at Poplar Grove and across North Carolina played in the region's peanut industry.
It was quite an educational day as we also heard from the Coastal Land Trust and the Cedar Hill West Bank Foundation about plans for Reeves AME Chapel, the North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the Town of Leland's Rice Festival organizers and many others about the important work they are doing to help share and preserve North Carolina's Gullah Geechee heritage. Thanks to former Commissioners Dr. John Haley and Mayor Eulis Willis of Navassa for joining us. Our next public meeting will take place in coastal Georgia later this fall.
LAST MONTH ACROSS THE CORRIDOR
Every month, programs and events happen across the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that help educate people about the history and culture of the Gullah Geechee people. Programs are organized by us and our local, Gullah Geechee communities, heritage sites, museums, universities and other institutions dedicated to sharing culture and history. We are proud to support their efforts.
A huge crowd turned out for the 15th Annual Sweetgrass Festival in Mt. Pleasant SC. We're thrilled that so many of you came out to talk to some of our sweetgrass basketmakers like Mrs. Ida Bennett, Mrs. Alethia Foreman, Mrs. Elizabeth Kinshaw, Mrs. Linda Blake, Mrs. Kathy Smalls, and Mrs. Ruth Wright. Thanks also to the South Carolina Aquarium and the U.S. National Park Service for joining us in our tent. We were able to provide a range of educational activities all day and we thank all of the people who visited with us to learn more about the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
We were present when a huge wave of applause filled a meeting room at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History after the State Review Board voted unanimously in favor of listing the Mosquito Beach Historic District on James Island on the National Register of Historic Places. We were proud to be there with the SC African American Heritage Commission to support our community members and to put our support for the nomination on the record.
A hands-on dye workshop on James Island, SC conducted as part of our joint series "Indigo: The Color that Changed the World" which is being presented in partnership with the International Center for Indigo Culture and the Charleston County Public Library.
Thanks to everyone who came out to our tent at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in early July during their annual, public history day. Visitors were able to learn about the variety of ways they can go out and explore history -- including traveling the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. There was also a moving afternoon of historic interpretation, "Living History Through the Eyes of the Enslaved" organized by Mr. Joe McGill of The Slave Dwelling Project
Congratulations to St. Simon's Island community historian Mrs. Amy Lotson Roberts and Dr. Patrick Holladay on the release in August of their new book, "Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles." Both are dedicated volunteers with the Historical Harrington School and the St. Simon's African American Heritage Coalition -- which also puts on the annual Georgia Sea Island Day Festival and the Taste of Gullah in May.
We were glad to see all of the community members who came from as far as Brunswick and Savannah to a planning meeting in Darien, Georgia for next year's outdoor, public memorial and commemoration of The Weeping Time. The Weeping Time refers to the largest single slave sale in U.S. history. In March 1859, over 400 Gullah Geechee men, women and children from plantations near Darien and St. Simon's GA were auctioned off on a race course in Savannah over the course of three days -- to satisfy the gambling debts of the plantation owner, Pierce Butler. It was a sale that shocked the conscience of the nation.
Thanks to everyone who filled the meeting room at the Mt. Pleasant SC library in July to share their opinions on the new interpretive themes and exhibit concepts for the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. We greatly appreciate the candor everyone bought to a discussion that involved difficult but important conversations about slavery and resistance, revisiting established narratives about historic figures like Charles Pinckney and acknowledging African contributions to colonial America, and how to tell these stories to multicultural, multigenerational visitors from South Carolina and around the world. The next round of community consultations will be in October 2019.
In May 2019 when The Gullah Society re-buried the remains of the African men, women and children found in an 18th century burial ground uncovered during the building of the Gaillard Center in downtown Charleston, they were each given African names and burial shrouds, hand-dyed in indigo.
Chef Benjamin Dennis recently tookBon Appétit Magazine on a great tour of contemporary Gullah Geechee foodways and communities. You can read the article on-line and find out more about how Chef Dennis is working to preserve the culture and traditional foodways. And all of the people helping him like community members Ms. Emily Meggett of Edisto Island, Jackie Frazier of Barefoot Farms, Bill and Sara Green of Gullah Grub Restaurant on St. Helena Island, Gina Capers-Willis and Roosevelt Brownlee in Savannah, Helen Ladson and Isaiah Brown on St. Simon's, and Connell Cox in Hollywood.
In early August, we spent the three days in the regional offices of the U.S. National Park Service in Atlanta meeting with other federal National Heritage Areas from across the Southeast. It was an important, collaborative meeting that allowed us to learn more about federal plans for upcoming national initiatives like the 250th anniversary of American Independence which will provide a national platform for educating people about African and Gullah Geechee fighters during the Revolutionary War.
A social media post we did on this classic song went viral in August. Many Americans know that the earliest known recording of "Kumbaya" was made of a Geechee singer, Mr. Henry Wylie, in Darien, Georgia in 1926. Fewer know that the earliest known record of the spiritual "Michael, Row Your Boat Ashore" also dates back to Gullah Geechee singers and the book, "Slave Songs of the United States" published in 1867 -- one of the earliest and largest collections of Negro spirituals. The book documents the songs sung around the time of the Civil War by the Gullah Geechee people of the South Carolina Sea Islands -- many of whom had sought refuge with the Union Army stationed near Port Royal. The song is in part a work or "rowing song" sung by Gullah Geechee boatmen.
Almost 75 people came out to Charleston's Main Library for historian Nic Butler's talk, "Indigo in the Fabric of Early South Carolina" -- to kick-off our partnered "Indigo: The Color that Changed the World" educational series.
Cover photograph: Our Program Coordinator Bria Graham led kids in agricultural activities at our educational tent at the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival. Photography by Sylvia Jarrus (July 13, 2019, Charleston Post & Courier).
REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS
The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor has just issued two Request for Proposals for (1) a facilitator to lead a planning process relating to Gullah Geechee land ownership and use preservation; and (2) a strategic heritage tourism plan for the Corridor. To request a copy of the RFP(s), send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On August 22, join us on Johns Island for a screening of the documentary "Blue Alchemy" followed by a panel discussion, "The World of Indigo", with the members of the International Center for Indigo Culture and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. This program is part of a summer-long series of programs that explore the historical significance of indigo to colonial South Carolina.
The Commission is also proud to be a sponsor of the 2019 "Black Communities Conference" taking place in Durham, North Carolina on September 9-11, 2019. At the conference. we'll be delivering a presentation on how we used documentary film to preserve and share Gullah Geechee culture. The Black Communities Conference, a.k.a. #BlackCom2019, is a vibrant and uniquely important gathering featuring panel discussions, local tours, film screenings, workshops, keynotes, and more. The core mission is to foster collaboration among Black communities and universities for the purpose of enhancing Black community life and furthering the understanding of Black communities.
And save-the-date to join us in October for "Heritage in Harm's Way." The heritage and the future of the Gullah Geechee people are inextricably linked to the communities and lands where they have historically lived on the Lower Atlantic coastline and along the old upland, “rice rivers.” Join us to hear from Gullah Geechee community members how environmental changes have placed their people and a unique part of America's cultural heritage in harm’s way. We’ll be joined by scientists from the South Carolina Aquarium who will lead us through a hands-on demonstration of the tools they use to help local, Gullah Geechee communities become “citizen scientists” trained to collect data, analyze environmental challenges and advocate for effective solutions.
GULLAH GEECHEE CULTURAL HERITAGE CORRIDOR COMMISSION VOTES TO ENDORSE AFRICAN AMERICAN BURIAL GROUNDS NETWORK ACT (H.R. 1179)
In May 2019, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission voted to endorse the African-American Burial Grounds Network Act (H.R. 1179). Cemeteries and burial sites are places of tribute and memory, connecting communities with their past. Unfortunately, many Gullah Geechee burial grounds from both before and after the Civil War are in a state of disrepair or inaccessibility. Due to Jim Crow-era laws that segregated burial sites by race, across the South, many African-American families faced restrictions on where they could bury their dead, and these sites often failed to receive the type of maintenance and record-keeping that predominantly white burial grounds enjoyed.
The Adams-McEachin-Budd African-American Burial Grounds Network Act creates a voluntary national network of historic African-American burial grounds. This legislation also establishes a National Park Service program to educate the public and provide technical assistance for community members and organizations to research and preserve burial sites and cemeteries within the Network. Read more about how this law could help sites like the historic Scanlonville cemetery in South Carolina shown above.
EXPLORE THE CORRIDOR
As you hit the road this summer, keep an eye out for these signs along the Savannah Highway (Highway 17) and across the Low Country. These helpful signs let you know that you are within the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor -- which extends from Pender County, NC, to St. Johns County, FL, for 30 miles inland -- and they serve as an invitation to explore the rich historical and cultural contributions of the Gullah Geechee people. Check out our website visitgullahgeechee.com to learn more.