Gullah Culture in Danger of Fading Away
June 8, 2001
ST. HELENA ISLAND, SOUTH CAROLINA—Time has stood still for more than a century on this rural island off the Atlantic Ocean. Dirt roads lead to houses where Gullah families live in clusters the way their ancestors did in Africa. Women wearing head wraps and aprons weave baskets from sea grass and sell them to tourists on their way to the affluent outlying islands.
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The Gullahs who live on the island are descendants of West African slaves who worked the rice and cotton fields before they were freed and offered a chance to purchase their land. As whites deserted the coast in favor of milder climates inland, the Gullahs lived in isolation for generations, allowing them to maintain their African culture longer than any slave descendants in America.
But more than 300 years after their arrival, some fear the Gullahs' grip on the past as well as their land is slipping.
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Events, such as the 15-year-old Gullah Festival held in Beaufort last month, will help to spread word of the plight and keep customs alive, said Washington, whose family still owns land on an adjacent island. And Gullah-Geechees who have moved away, such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, are stepping up. Thomas, who grew up on the Georgia coast, has said he would like to write a book about the culture.
Monday, September 24, 2007
National Geographic on Gullah Culture
There's an interesting tidbit about Justice Thomas in the middle of this National Geographic article on Gullah culture. Maybe this will be his next book project: