The annual Original Gullah Festival returns Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28, at Beaufort’s Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park.
The theme for this year’s festival is “Come Home to a Celebration of Reconstruction ... The Untold Story.” The three days of festivities feature “Lest We Forget History” seminars, the Gullah Lowcountry Supper, live music, a film festival, African dance and drums, history re-enactors, the Robert Smalls Traveling Museum exhibit, the full-stage musical, “Decoration Day,” reconstruction Gullah tours, Gullah African diaspora artists, a jazz concert, “Make-it Take-it” workshops, an “All-White Attire Waterfront Party,” gospel music and a “Silver Slipper Supper Club Dance.”
The festival will also showcase the true story of the newly freed Gullahs, a people determined to persevere out of the bondage of slavery to full citizenship from the ashes of the American Civil War. This profound era of history was birthed on the Sea Islands of Beaufort County. By presidential proclamation on Jan. 12, Beaufort County was designated the Reconstruction Era National Monument of the National Park Service. This month’s 31st annual festival celebrates this honor and the role of a rich Gullah heritage in shaping a remarkable period in American history.
Friday, May 26
Celebrations begin at 10 a.m. with a Gullah village where re-enactors share the Reconstruction story. There also will be a Gullah marketplace with more than 40 craft and food vendors, “Lest We Forget History” seminars, Reconstruction Gullah tours, museum exhibits and a film festival.
Main stage entertainment begins at 1 p.m. Admission is free during the day. Friday’s premier event is the “Reggae R&B All-White Attire Waterfront Party” at 9 p.m. Admission is $30.
Saturday, May 27
The festival continues at 10 a.m. with the drum call, Reconstruction Gullah tours, Robert Smalls and Black Inventors Traveling Museum exhibits, film festival, and the craft and food vendor’s marketplace.
Entertainment includes Gullah Gullah Island Nickelodeon TV stars Ron and Natalie Daise, Dr. Marlena Smalls and the Hallelujah Singers, Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters, neo-soul music, the Wona Womalan West African Drum & Dance Ensemble and the Gullah village. The Reconstruction story also will be told through re-enactors, singers, dancers and other presenters.
The Gen. Robert Smalls family will be honored as the 2017 Gullah Family of the Year during the festival’s official opening ceremony at noon at Waterfront Park. Admission for Saturday’s events is $20 for adults and free for children 12 and under.
Did you know that Memorial Day — once called Decoration Day — was started on May 1, 1865, by newly freed enslaved Africans? The full-stage musical “Decoration Day ... An Old Fashion Memorial Day” is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the historic Tabernacle Baptist Church, 901 Craven St., which is two blocks from Waterfront Park. It stars award-winning storyteller Aunt Pearlie Sue and her Gullah Kinfolk performers who will go back in time and bring history alive on stage. They plan to share the excitement and joy of freedom through song, dance, food, laughter and tears. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children.
Festivalgoers are asked to put on their shiny dancing shoes Saturday evening for the “Silver Slipper Supper Club Dance,” co-sponsored by Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and the Beaufort Inn Tabby Place. New to the festival this year, the event features live music by Gwen Yvette & Company and D.J. Topher. Food will be donated and catered by Southern Graces. Tickets are $30 for general admission or $45 for V.I.P. early dinner seating at 8 p.m.
Sunday, May 28
The “Hour of Power” service begins at 9 a.m. at Waterfront Park. The Commemorative Marker Rededication of the African Landing follows at 11 a.m. on 11th Street off Parris Avenue, in neighboring Port Royal.
The festival resumes at 1 p.m. at Beaufort’s Waterfront Park with the Gullah marketplace, Gullah village, reconstruction Gullah tours, the Robert Smalls and black inventors traveling exhibits, praise dancing and the gospel song bird, Mildred Daniels. There also will be an Unknown Soldier Memorial ceremony by the Women’s Relief Corps, a performance by the Beaufort Mass Choir and a concert by the Parris Island Marine Corp Jazz Band. Admission is free to all events on Sunday in honor of those who fought to preserve our freedom.
For tickets and more information, visit www.theoriginalgullahfestival.org.
Friday, May 26
Pickup service is available from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (Bus 1 and 2) and 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Bus 1) at New Hope Christian church, 67 Parris Island Gateway in Burton.
Pickup and return service is available from 3:30 to 8:30 p.m. (Bus 2) at the Beaufort County Government Center and Beaufort Elementary.
Saturday, May 27
Pickup service and return service is available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. at the Beaufort County Government Center (Bus 1), D.S.S. lot (Bus 2) and Beaufort Elementary (Bus 2).
Sunday, May 28
Pickup and return service is available from 1 to 9 p.m. (Bus 1) at the Beaufort County Government Center and Beaufort Elementary.