Wilmington, NC – From the sweetgrass baskets women still weave on the roads into Charleston, to the crumbling remnants of rice fields and the savory tang of Low Country cooking, hints of Gullah heritage abound along the southeastern coast.
The Gullah people (the term 'Geechee' is also used synonymously) are the descendents of West African slaves brought across the Atlantic to cultivate the region's plantations. For hundreds of years, they've maintained a distinct culture in this part of the country. Now the National Parks Service wants to highlight that legacy with a heritage corridor stretching from Wilmington south to Jacksonville, Florida.
Federal funds were approved last fall for the $10 million, 10-year project and to get things underway, the NPS is forming a 15-person commission to advise on the project. Committee membership will be split between appointed experts and officials and interested members of the public.
Michael Allen of the Parks Service says booming growth along the southeastern coast makes this a critical time to preserve Gullah culture.
"As we move further along in the 21st century and there's greater impacts to the communities and to coastal residents," Allen said, "I think now is the time to take advantage of this opportunity."
The corridor will help forge links between existing cultural sites, such as museums and historic plantations, according to Allen, who added that traces of Gullah culture are still visible everywhere, if you know where to look.
"When we're crossing various rivers," Allen says, "whether it's the Waccamaw, the Cape Fear, whether it's the Santee, the Cooper, or whatever, you're able to see remnants now of rice fields and rice dykes and things that were created, not with machinery, but by hand."
The Parks service will hold several public meetings in the coming weeks on the Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor.
February 24, 2007
St. Stephen's AME Church
For more information: you can visit Congressman James Clyburn's Information page