Gullah Geechee plan offers new possibilities

info@islandpacket.comJuly 28, 2012 

Beaufort County can benefit from a new report on the Gullah culture, and so can the rest of the world.

And that is just the point of the milestone work of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.

Its 272-page management plan now available online for public review and comment shows why the African American culture along the coastline is important and how this great American story can be preserved and shared.

At this point, the importance of the study is the study itself.

In 2006, Congress established the commission, gave it a small stipend of $150,000 per year and the help of the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior and charged it with defining and figuring out how to manage the only National Heritage Area devoted to the African American experience. Smilar efforts had failed previously.

The commission's goals can directly benefit Beaufort County. The new report's executive summary defines its purpose as follows:

  • Recognize, sustain and celebrate the important contributions made to American culture and history by the African Americans known as the Gullah Geechee, who settled in the coastal counties of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.

  • Assist state and local governments and public and private entities in those states in interpreting the story of the Gullah Geechee and preserving Gullah Geechee folklore, arts, crafts and music.

  • Assist in identifying and preserving sites, historical data, artifacts and objects associated with Gullah Geechee people and culture for the benefit and education of the public.

  • Its building blocks will be education, economic development, documentation and preservation.

    It proposes accurate, comprehensive interpretation of the culture; support for heritage-related economic development and the preservation of land and natural resources related to the culture; and preservation of Gullah resources, primarily through documentation.

    It proposes a clear and consistent signage system to establish and brand the corridor as a special place, and guide people to sites of historic and cultural significance, which in our community could include the Mitchelville site on Hilton Head Island and Penn Center on St. Helena Island.

    It also proposes one or more coastal heritage centers in each state, anchors for interpreting and experiencing the Gullah culture. Future development would be based on adequate funding, partnerships and community support.

    The management plan is a milestone, but only a framework and a starting point. It can do little more than encourage teamwork within communities, such as Beaufort County, to tell more about the African connection, the first freedom, Reconstruction and the evolving, living culture unique to our area.

    We encouarage individuals and organizations throughout Beaufort County -- which we like to call first in freedom -- to study the management plan, discuss it and give feedback on ways to make it come to life in this community. That comment period will close within a month.

    The report is available at select libraries, at the Corridor web site (www.gullahgeecheecorridor.org) and at the National Park Service web site parkplanning.nps.gov/guge.

    The mailing address is Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, c/o Commission Chairman, 1214 Middle St., Sullivan's Island, SC 29482.

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