As you probably know, February was Black History Month. Thus, it was appropriate that here at Fort Frederica we celebrated Gullah Geechee Heritage Day on February 24. I wrote about Gullah Geechee Day last year, but I think it is important enough to write about it again.
This year’s Heritage Day was similar to last year’s. The Ring Shouters were the biggest draw, as they should be. If you are not part of the Gullah Geechee Heritage, you rarely have a chance to see Ring Shouters perform. They told the story of the Black history in Georgia and South Carolina, ending with the climax of emancipation. About 300 people gathered to watch their riveting performance.
There were other special guests with two of them giving lectures appropriate to Black History Month. I spent the day at a booth with general information about the Geechee Culture so I wasn’t able to hear any of the speakers. The Phil Morrison Trio also performed but this year they played inside the auditorium. I enjoyed hearing them play outside last year, but they didn’t enjoy the sand gnats and wanted to be inside this year. I can appreciate that because the sand gnats were bad.
Three things made this year’s Black History celebration even better than last year’s. First, a ranger from Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation set up an exhibit about rice which was very interesting. He talked about it from planting through harvesting. The slaves got the broken rice – bits too small to be sold – and many people prefer this broken rice because it absorbs more flavor.
Gregory Grant was the second better thing. He makes sweet grass baskets and tells wonderful Gullah Geechee stories. Gregory is a master basket weaver and his baskets are works of art that sell for hundreds of dollars. He had a crowd around him all day. The final thing that made this year better was Shirley Hunter, but she gets the next post all to herself.
Some of you may be familiar with some Gullah Geechee stories. The stories often have a central character named Br’er Rabbit who survives by his cunning. The stories have origins in African folktales. Walt Disney made a movie about the stories called “Song of the South” in 1946 but it is rarely seen today.
A very popular part of the day was the trolley to the Harrington School. The trolley ran every half hour, carrying people back and forth to the restored schoolhouse which the black children on the island attended. The schoolhouse was recently renovated and is now open to the public on special days. There was also a “Soul Food” food truck at the School and lots of people came back to the park with containers of delicious-looking food.
Gullah Geechee Day allowed Fort Frederica to close out Black History Month with a wonderful day of learning and celebration.