The South Carolina coast is filled with West African culture. One of the most prominent is the Gullah Geechee culture that is known for its sweetgrass baskets and rice, serving a huge role in the Lowcountry.
“In our kitchen, through the crafts that we see, and those who are partakers of psalm, of storytelling, of sharing history, of building boats, building nets, making baskets, these are all tenants of Gullah Geechee history and culture, and a key reason of why this Corridor was established was to protect this, to interpret this, but also to insure its substainability in the future,” says Gullah Geechee Coordinator Michael Allen.
Allen says the Gullah Geechee Corridor, which is an opportunity for a partnership between the culture and the community, stretches 12,000 square miles from Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, FL. Congressman James Clyburn of Charleston established the Gullah Geechee National Heritage Act in 2006, creating an open window of opportunity for the heritage.
“It is a National Heritage Area, but one of the responsibilities after its creation is developing a management plan, which will set the tone, and character, and movement for the next 10 to 15 years,” says Allen.
Allen says they want to hear public input about the management plan. So, meetings are being held to allow the public to comment on places, issues, and items that have served as importance to the Gullah Geechee culture and to their community.
“At some meetings, I’ll be honest, some folks have said, ‘even if you all were not here we’re gonna do what we need to do.’ I would say even without this effort, it would survive as it is now, but I think this effort allows a greater awareness, a greater appreciation, and a greater understanding of the culture,” says Allen.
Many times arts and crafts are hit first when the state looks at the budget. Allen says they want to remain conscious and wise about that.
“The economic piece is also an important piece. So, that’s why we want to partner with cities, with towns, and counties, and communities so there will be a shared burden and shared responsibility for the financial picture of this endeavor,” says Allen.
Allen says the Gullah Geechee Corridor is a recognition of the African American presence that was so important to the foundation the country economically, socially, and politically. He says now, the key is sustaining it.
The next meeting is on Johns Island at Wesley United Methodist Church, near Charleston on Tuesday, July 7 at 7 p.m. Go to www.nps.gov/guge for more information.