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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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. 

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.

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