On Saturday, February 25, Fort Frederica celebrated Black History Month with Gullah Geechee Heritage Day. As one of the barrier islands along the southern coast, St. Simons is part of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Trail. What is a Gullah Geechee? I’m glad you asked!
The Gullah Geechee are descendants of the freed slaves who lived on the Sea Islands. Many of the slaves who worked in South Carolina and Georgia came from the area of Africa that is now Sierra Leone. They spoke a blend of West African Krio and English taught to them as slaves. Although thought to be an inferior form of English (discouraged in schools), Gullah is a unique and colorful creole language.
The Gullah Geechee are proud of their heritage and work hard to keep it alive. The best example of this is the Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters who were the featured performers for the day. The Ring Shouters tell the story of the Gullah Geechee by performing songs and dances interspersed with bits of their history. I got to watch and take pictures of their performance which was a wonderful blend of faith, art, sorrow, and courage. Whenever one of them spoke in Gullah, another translated so we could all understand and enjoy. You can see one of their performances here.
In addition to the Ring Shouters, the grand-niece of Robert Abbott, the founder of the largest black newspaper in the United States, spoke about her uncle and the work that he did. Myiti Sengstacke Rice read excerpts from her book “Images of America: Chicago Defender.”
Kevin Pullen unveiled his new soft-clay sculpture “Robert Abbott and His Boys.” The sculpture depicts Robert Abbott surrounded by some of the boys who sold his newspaper all over Chicago. The sculpture is on loan to Fort Frederica.
During the speakers in the afternoon, the Phil Morrison Trio played jazz music on the breezeway by the Visitors Center. People coming and going – and staying to listen – enjoyed this wonderful trio. Some couples danced on the lawn while they played.
The finale to the special afternoon was a Gullah Geechee Trolley tour around St. Simons led by Amy Lotson-Roberts. She told the story of Ibo Landing, showed us the Gullah schoolhouse, and talked about the three Gullah communities on the island.