The Gullah-Geechee are the descendants of West African and Central African people who were brought to this country to do slave labor on coastal plantations stretching from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. In the Carolinas, these people are known as Gullahs; in Georgia and Florida, they are called Geechees.
Because of their isolation on barrier islands and in mainland coastal communities, these enslaved people were able to retain many of their African customs, including religious beliefs and traditions, music, foodways, dance movements, and remnants of their native African languages. They were able to pass all these things down to later generations.
The Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was established by the U.S. Congress in 2006. It includes 79 barrier islands, and communities as far as 30 miles inland on the mainland. The Corridor is managed by the National Park Service.
In Georgia, the Gullah-Geechee culture spans from the Savannah area down to St. Marys and surrounding communities. It includes difficult-to-access islands such as Sapelo and Cumberland, and many popular tourist and resort areas such as St. Simons and Jekyll islands.
Collage Photograph Credits: All black-and-white photographs are by Muriel and Malcolm Bell. Color images are by Michele Nicole Johnson, Sapelo Island, Georgia.
Sapelo Island, Georgia, is in McIntosh County, and it is the site of the historic Hog Hammock Community. Some historians believe Hog Hammock is one of the last intact island-based Gullah-Geechee communities in America. The island is accessible only by state-run ferry or private boat, and when you arrive on its shores, it's as if you've stepped back in time.
Cornelia Walker Bailey is a native Sapelonian and the author of the book, God, Dr. Buzzard and the Bolito Man. Her book includes some of the island folklore and traditions that survived the Middle Passage and the atrocities of slavery in America. Mrs. Bailey visited Sierra Leone in West Africa, with other Gullah-Geechee delegates, where they got to see and hear the many connections they share. The story of their journey is told in the documentary Family Across the Sea (see Films in this LibGuide).
Related LibGuide: Muslims in Antebellum Georgia