In 2006, Congress established a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that stretches from Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, FL encompassing 12,000 square miles that includes the entire coast of South Carolina. With a history that spans over three centuries in the state, the Gullah/Geechee people look to preserve their culture along the corridor. There is a meeting tomorrow night from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Bethel AME Church in Georgetown, which was established by First Lady Michelle Obama’s grandparents, and the public is encouraged to attend and be heard. Michael Allen with the National Park Service and Coordinator for the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor says that public involvement is essential.
“When you have public engagement meetings , that’s usually the central place and time that you are able to capture the voices of the people who have a concern,” said Allen. “What I have shared with people, if people have thoughts, desires, beliefs, feelings, about preservation, protections, sustainability…It’s incumbent upon them to find their ways to one of these public engagement meetings and to talk about it. It becomes a part of the public dialogue. It becomes part of the record.”
Allen says the culture spawned from the Africans enslaved in South Carolina because of their knowledge to grow rice. “So out of that transformation of Africans from West Africa to Colonial South Carolina grew what we call the Gullah and Geechee history which, simply put; is a lifeway, is a culture, is a language, it’s food ways, it’s burial practices, it’s wedding practices. It’s living practices that became a part of the landscape because of the majority of the people of African descent that lived in coastal, historic South Carolina,” according to Allen.
He says the purpose of the Heritage Corridor is to educate the public on the impact the Gullah/Geechee people have had on the history of the state and the nation.
“The work that we do is to, one, make people of aware of what you just asked,” he said. “Many people may see Gullah and Geechee written in a book or a magazine, see a billboard or a commercial but do not understand the genesis of Gullah and Geechee and the impact that Gullah/Geechee folk have in the development of our state, of our region, and of our nation.”
The purpose of the meeting is to help in the development of the management plan of the corridor for the next ten years.