Gullah Geechee

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.

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. 

That's farmed oysters. Earnest Sr. grew up watching his father work on a crab boat. Earnest Jr. did the same with his dad. Tending to metal cages of oysters spread around the marshland that they lease is what they are hoping will allow them to continue the tradition. 

Mashama Bailey is a fan. Bailey is the head, James Beard Award nominated chef at The Grey restaurant in Savannah. Harris Neck oysters are the first item on the online menu for the restaurant in face.

On a drive from Savannah to Florida, Bailey said she caught the odor of Harris Neck oysters on the wind. 

"They're marshy and funky but they're also clean and salty at the same time," Bailey said. 

In this short film, head out onto the water near Harris Neck where the oysters are farmed with Bailey and the McIntoshes. 

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.

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