Posts Tagged ‘Gullah Culture in America’

Explore Gullah culture on paper, land, and water

February 26, 2012

A fascinating book just crossed my desk — “Gullah Culture in America,” by Wilbur Cross. Just out from John F. Blair Publisher, the book delves into the past and present of the Gullah people, descendants of African ethnic groups who were brought to America as early as the late 17th century and were forced to work on plantations in South Carolina and later Georgia.

I’ve written about the Gullahs before. Lina and I visited several Gullah spots in coastal South Carolina in 2007. The two most fascinating were the Penn Center in Beaufort, which works to preserve and document the Gullah and Geechee cultures, and Sandy Island,  inhabited by Gullah people and reached only by boat. We kayaked in, and the story I wrote for the Boston Globe about that little adventure is below.

The National Park Service is working on a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. The website isn’t updated, but I know there has been slow progress on this project. Some day the important Gullah stops between coastal southern North Carolina, where the corridor begins, and northern Florida, will be well marked and open for business. I can’t wait!

According to author Cross, today, more than 300,000 Gullah people live in the remote areas of the SC and GA sea islands of St. Helena, Edisto, Coosaw, Ossabaw, Sapelo, Daufuske, and Cumberland, their way of life endangered by overdevelopment in an increasingly popular tourist destination.

Here’s my Globe story, which ran July 22, 2007.

PRECIOUS AND PRESERVED: A Gullah community, undeveloped land, freshwater wildlife – all just miles from busy Myrtle Beach, SC

SANDY ISLAND – After a day of cavorting around this beautiful, undeveloped freshwater island, we wondered if our final stop would bring a happy ending or a hostile one. It was hard to imagine the latter, but we had been forewarned.

Water plants in shallow waters of the Waccamaw River near Sandy Island

We had rented kayaks to reach Sandy Island because there is no bridge or ferry service to this 12,000-acre swath of land between the Waccamaw and Great Pee Dee rivers 15 miles south of Myrtle Beach. The day so far had been blissful. With the occasional flying fish keeping us company, we had paddled past wetlands sprouting dancing grasses and the knobby knees of cypress and tupelo trees. On land, in the Nature Conservancy preserve, trails of white sand canopied by stately oaks and Spanish moss took us through stands of longleaf pines. Now, for our final stop, we steered our bright blue and red kayaks back up the Waccamaw on the island’s east side and over to the Sandy Island public boat landing.

To the right of where we landed was a dock holding a few small boats, as well as the Tours de Sandy Island pontoon boat, and the Prince Washington, the “school boat” that ferries local children across the river, where a bus waits to transport them to mainland schools. Many islanders shuttle to work, using jon boats to reach their cars parked at the mainland launch, some 10 minutes away along a canal that is lined with street lights for nighttime boating. Our destination, just a few feet up from the shore on the left, was the island’s only business, Pyatt’s General Store, housed in a small yellow frame building with a front porch.

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