'Shakie' Grant's Gullah legacy worthy of celebration

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMay 24, 2012 

Deacon Nathaniel "Shakie" Grant was a mover and shaker all his life.

As a child, he shook when he walked, so he carried the nickname to his grave Wednesday in the Beaufort National Cemetery.

As an adult, he moved people to a better life, hauling them in the back of his green pickup truck to work, church, the polling place, NAACP meetings, or maybe an outing to Singleton Beach on Hilton Head Island.

He was the youngest of eight children born to Deacon Jonas and Louise Grant in the Porter community in Burton 93 years ago. While his siblings headed north for opportunity, Grant tried to plant opportunity here.

And while Beaufort County's Gullah culture will be celebrated with song, dance and food at the Original Gullah Festival this weekend in Beaufort, the greatest attributes of any culture could be learned by looking closely at Grant. Indeed, he and his wife of 71 years, Etta Mae Singleton Grant, who survives him, reared the festival's 2004 Gullah Family of the Year.

Grant was a worker.

He worked 43 years in civil service at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, before and after serving in the U.S. Army in World War II. His wife worked there 34 years. They had lunch together every day, and every day they hauled other people to good-paying jobs on Parris Island, sitting in the three wooden benches he made for his truck.

After work and on weekends, he worked some more.

Grant raised hogs and chickens and planted acres of vegetables. His mother died when he was 4 and his grandmother when he was 12, so Grant learned early to work alongside his father in the fields. Much of what he grew he gave away. His good job and fertile fields afforded him a way to employ neighborhood children whose family needed the money most. His own five children learned about work, slopping hogs and picking beans by the bushel.

Like his father, Grant helped hold up the St. Paul Baptist Church, where the fellowship hall now bears his name. He was a deacon for 48 years and deacon chairman for 30 years. He headed the Sunday school, cleaned the church and grounds, and as a child rang the church bell for Sunday services, and, in a slower way, to announce deaths in the community.

Gloria E. Singleton tells in her book, "Beaufort Through the Ages," that Grant learned from his father to always be on time. His children say he sometimes had them at church meetings an hour before they started.

Grant served his community on countless boards. And he preached education. He was a graduate of Robert Smalls High School, where his wife was salutatorian. All five of their children earned college degrees, or more.

Remember, this legacy is from a man and wife who were discriminated against because of the color of their skin. They had to scramble even to vote. And yet they plowed ahead, literally showing what movers and shakers really look like.

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