Leaders and advocates of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor are moving forward with a management plan for defining, protecting, and promoting its unique culture.
Corridor leaders have introduced some of the key ideas that will be outlined in the plan, including an updated description of Gullah Geechee people and culture; a brief historical overview; socioeconomic conditions; interpretation themes and an interpretation framework; partnership programs and selection criteria; heritage tourism and visitor experience; and signage.
The Gullah Geechee Corridor is the only National Heritage Area in the U.S. Parks Service that focuses on a select African American population. The distinction was established by federal legislation in 2006. Gullah and Geechee people are descendants of West African slaves who remained in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. They speak a distinctive English-based creole language and are known for sweetgrass basket weaving and culinary traditions that have been passed down through generations.
Now, after a year of public meetings, members of this community in the Southeast are reclaiming their culture and how it will be defined and explained. The U.S. Department of the Interior, which oversees all Heritage Corridors, will have to approve changes suggested in the plan.
“Commissioners have been working earnestly to ensure the document relates as a plan by Gullah Geechee people, of Gullah Geechee people, and for Gullah Geechee people,” says Ron Daise, the chairman-elect of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission.
Ron and his wife Natalie are the producers and stars of public television’s “Gullah Gullah Island” and have been longtime advocates and interpreters of this coastal culture.
Daise says he is worried that members of the Gullah Geechee community itself may not proudly own and protect their own culture. That is why, he says, the commission has named the “action” part of the plan, “Enlighten and Empower Gullah Geechee People to Sustain the Culture.” Read Daise article, “Gullah Geechee Mean A Lot.”
He says an imminent threat is, “Unawareness and unappreciation about the culture’s significance among “been yahs” (natives) as well as “come yahs” (those who have relocated to Gullah Geechee communities). Many who live the culture are ashamed of it! The Corridor’s management plan, however, will greatly ameliorate this challenge through our three-tiered implementation format: education, economic development, and documentation and preservation.”
AUDIO: South Carolina Radio Network’s Ashley Byrd spoke with Daise about the plan (11:05)
A 30-day public review and comment period of the management plan is slated for July. At that time, copies of the document will be available online. The commission plans to submit the management plan to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for approval in late summer or early fall 2012.