Exploring Gullah-Geechee Culture

When West African people were enslaved and brought to America, a rich heritage of language, music, stories and traditions came with them. For generations, people known as Gullah-Geechee have kept the culture alive, weaving threads into Georgia’s history since before it became a state. This week we’re hearing how some descendants are passing along the Gullah heritage to the next generation.

This project is supported in part by Georgia Humanities through appropriations made by the Georgia General Assembly.

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Over two rainy days in Savannah, 436 people were listed for sale to pay off the debts of the man who owned them. The 1859 event, now known as the “Weeping Time,” was the largest sale of enslaved people in American history.

This weekend, the Georgia Historical Society remembers with events in coastal Georgia.

I spoke with Weeping Time historian Dr. Kwesi DeGraft-Hanson to learn more.


Cindy Hill

Savannah’s Telfair Museums is showcasing the lives of urban enslaved people in a new exhibit opening Nov. 16.

Shannon Browning-Mullis is curator of history and decorative arts for the Telfair Museums, which operates the house. She takes us on an audio tour.


"On Second Thought" took a break from election coverage to hear from creatives all over Georgia about their work and what inspires them. We spoke with documentary filmmakers about "The Wanderer," a new GPB documentary about the penultimate slave ship to land in the U.S.. We also heard from Kalena Boller, whose GPB podcast, "The Credits," debuts today. 

We spoke to a group of people who make the creative economy possible. Susanna Spiccia from Re:Imagine ATL, Mitch Martin from BMI and Jason Hoch from How Stuff Works all joined the conversation.   

                                                                                                                                    

Credit: Jekyll Island Georgia

A slave ship known as "The Wanderer" landed off Georgia's coast at Jekyll Island just 50 years after U.S. law banned the importation of slaves. Its inhumane and horrendous journey contributed to the origin story of Georgia's Gullah Geechee community.


Honoring Ancestors Through An Old Gullah Tradition

Feb 8, 2018
Cindy Hill-Williams / GPB

Cummingsville cemetery sits on the banks of the Savannah River. That’s where the first members of the Scott-West family — who were brought to America as slaves — are buried.  On a recent windy day four generations of the family gathered to anoint the grave of an ancestor and create a new family tradition.

In Savannah, two men work to bring Gullah-Geechee heritage to tourists.  James Pringle sits on a bench in Wright Square almost every day singing about history and slicing reeds in which he weaves into roses. 

Jamal Toure' teaches Africana Studies at Savannah State University and leads tourists on walking tours that highlight Gullah history in Georgia.

This project is supported in part by Georgia Humanities through appropriations made by the Georgia General Assembly.

This week we’re hearing how some descendants are passing along Gullah heritage to the next generation. Patricia West is a writer and professor at Savannah State University. She was inspired to document her family’s roots after discovering her great great-grandmother’s grave on a trip to the family cemetery. 

The Scott-West family is also looking for ways to celebrate their history. Later this week, we will join them at the centuries-old cemetery where their American heritage begins, for a libations ceremony honoring ancestors.

The University of North Carolina Press

On this episode of "Two Way Street," we’re separating fact from fiction about the Gullah people. Our guest is Rutgers University History Professor, Melissa Cooper, author of "Making Gullah:  A History of Sapelo Islanders, Race, and the American Imagination."

Grant Blankenship / GPB

There's no future in crabbing.

That's the conclusion Earnest McIntosh, Sr. came to when his son, Ernest McIntosh, Jr. said he wanted to work with his father on the water near their home in Harris Neck, Ga., in McIntosh County. 

"I couldn't see a future into crabbing. But I could see it into oysters," McIntosh, Sr. said. 


Cindy Hill / GPB

Think Christmas music and there are sounds that probably jump to mind. 

There's Bing Crosby, Vince Guaraldi, maybe Handel's "Messiah." Well, as it turns out, one of the oldest African-American musical traditions is also tied to Christmas.

That's the Ring Shout, still performed by the Geechee and Gullah people of the Georgia and South Carolina coast.

Don't know the Shout? Meet the McIntosh County Ring Shouters. We caught up with them introducing their music to children at a recent Savannah Music Festival Musical Explorers concert.  

Judge Won't Dismiss Discrimination Suit By Slave Descendants

Nov 1, 2017
David Goldman / AP Photo/File

A federal judge in Georgia has refused to dismiss a lawsuit that claims racial discrimination is eroding one of the last Gullah-Geechee communities of slave descendants on the Southeast U.S. coast.

Residents and landowners from the tiny Hogg Hummock community on remote Sapelo Island sued the state and McIntosh County in December 2015. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court says the enclave of about 50 black residents is shrinking rapidly as landowners pay high property taxes yet receive few basic services, pressuring them to sell their property.

On the coastal edge of Georgia sits a small, dwindling community known as the Gullah Geechee. The people in the community are direct descendants of enslaved West Africans who settled on the barrier islands there. The Gullah Geechee's unofficial historian and vocal advocate for the preservation of the community, Cornelia Walker Bailey, has died. She was 72.

The U.S. Department of Justice indicted six Georgia men last week for trafficking guns to New York. The gun runners smuggled the weapons through an underground market known as the “Iron Pipeline.” The pipeline refers to Interstate 95, which connects states like New York with strict gun laws to Southern states like Georgia with less gun restrictions. We learn more about the Iron Pipeline and efforts to dismantle it with journalist Tina Susman and New York City Public Advocate Tish James.

 

Gullah Geechee On Screen

Aug 4, 2016
Julie Dash's 1991 "Daughters of the Dust" features a family in the Gullah community in 1902 South Carolina.

The first Gullah Geechee Heritage Film Festival kicks off this weekend in Horry County, South Carolina. The festival hopes to educate younger audiences and create opportunities to share Gullah narratives on-screen. We talk with Amy Kelly, one of the festival’s organizers, about how the Gullah community has been depicted in film.

A federal judge says key Georgia agencies are not immune from a lawsuit that claims one of the last Gullah-Geechee communities of slave descendants on the Southeast coast is being eroded by discrimination and neglect.

The lawsuit says state and county agencies have pressured black residents and landowners to leave the tiny Hogg Hummock community on Sapelo Island by charging unfair tax rates in return for few services.

Attorneys for the state wanted the lawsuit dismissed, citing the 11th Amendment's broad protections for states being sued in federal court.

Gabrielle Ware / Georgia Public Broadcasting

A federal judge said the state of Georgia is not immune from a lawsuit that claims the state discriminated against a community of slave descendants on Sapelo Island.

The suit was filed last December by several members of one of the last Gullah Geechee communities, Hogg Hummock.

Every year, thousands of birds make their way to Georgia’s coastline during their migration. One vital resting place for these birds is the estuary found at the mouth of the Altamaha River, where they eat and recover en route to their final destination. One species called the red knot heavily depends on Georgia’s coast to help complete its 19,000 mile journey.

The Return Of Purple Ribbon Sugarcane

Mar 14, 2016
Jim Melvin/Clemson University

Purple ribbon sugar cane tastes a little different from its tropical relative. For a while, it thrived on Sapelo Island off the coast of Georgia. Then, disease nearly wiped it out in North America altogether. Now a team of farmers, geneticists, and historians have come together to bring back the Purple Ribbon Sugar Cane. And, in doing so, help save Gullah Geechee culture.

Gullah Geechee File Suit To Stay On Sapelo Island

Dec 9, 2015
Sam Whitehead / GPB

Members of Sapelo Island’s Gullah Geechee community are suing local and state governments for practices they say are threatening their ability to live on land they've called home for generations.

Reed Colfax is an attorney representing the group and says many are descendants of slaves.

“When those slaves were freed after the Civil War, many started creating their own communities, had their own lives,” he says. “It was an extraordinary thing, and it's being ignored now.”

 

Gabrielle Ware / GPB

Daufuskie island's population peaked in the 1940s with more than a thousand residents, mostly descendants of freed slaves brought to the coast to harvest rice and sea cotton.

Today, this quiet community has less than 100 people and is nestled between Savannah, Georgia and Hilton Head, South Carolina. Once, Daufuskie Island was a home to Gullah people from all over the low country but when Daufuskie Island's booming oyster industry came to an end in the 1950’s after the beds were poisoned by pollution in the Savannah River, the population began to dwindle.

When it rains on Sapelo Island, it doesn’t take long for the roads to turn into mud according to Gullah resident Stacey Grovner.

“Back in March we had a torrential downpour over a week long period; we got over 11 inches of rain over one week. The roads were like soup.”

  Sapelo Island, Georgia is a coastal community with rich wildlife, an enviable coastline and towering moss draped trees. It’s no wonder many choose the location for vacations and second homes.

What you may not know is the island is also home to the last intact Gullah Geechee community.