Gullah-Geechee is a phrase that describes the descendants of West African people brought to this continent to do slave labor on coastal plantations from Wilmington, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida. In the Carolinas, these people are known as Gullahs; in Georgia and Florida, they are called Geechees.
The Gullah-Geechee culture is characterized by what some scholars believe to be remnants of West African traditions -- language, foodways, music and spiritual expression -- that have been passed down through generations. The descendants of this culture now struggle to retain the coastal land that has been in their families since slavery ended.
In Georgia, the Gullah-Geechee culture spans from the Savannah area down to St. Marys and surrounding communities. It includes islands accessible only by boat, such as Sapelo and Cumberland, and many popular tourist and resort areas such as St. Simons and Jekyll islands.
Katie Grovner Brown was born in 1853 on Sapelo Island, Georgia. She was the granddaughter of Bilali Muhammad and his wife, Phoebe, and she tells her family story in the book, Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies Among the Georgia Coastal Negroes.
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.
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Credit: Nanny Goat Beach near Big Hole on Sapelo Island, Georgia. Photograph by Michele Nicole Johnson.