When Wilbur Cross first came to Hilton Head Island he didn't know much about Gullah culture. He quickly became an expert.
Cross published "Gullah Culture in America" about five years ago, an examination of the roots of the people who were the descendants of freed slaves in the Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina. It's recently been re-released in paperback from John F. Blair Publisher.
Cross, a former editor at Life magazine and author of historical nonfiction, revisits his interest in Gullah.
Question. How did your interest in Gullah come about?
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Answer. It really started when I met Emory Campbell (of the Penn Center). I had become a member of the Penn Center in the early '90s. At the time, Emory was taking trips over to West Africa with a group to discover the connections between Gullah and West African cultures. Around that time I had started to become very interested.
Q. What was it about the culture itself that piqued your interest?
A. I'm from New England and I had always been interested in history. Our family origins go back several hundred years in Connecticut. With Gullah, it was just a personal interest in the area I was living. I never really joined groups or societies. I just studied on my own.
Q. When did you get serious about writing the book?
A. Well, I had written articles for Penn Center and was doing some research myself. The first edition was a bit more scholarly. I probably spent more time doing the references and footnotes and all that than writing the actual book. The jacket price was $49.99, too. Not exactly all that affordable either.
Q. You had a successful career as a magazine editor, when did you start writing books?
A. Actually, I started writing at about the age of 10. I'd write these mini books for my friends. The first was "The Adventures of Littl Bear." Littl Bear was so little he didn't have an "e" at the end of the name. They'd get a kick out of that.
After (World War II), I really thought I'd want to be a novelist. I wrote boys adventure stories. I wrote a few of those but couldn't get them published. So I became a copy writer at an ad agency. I wrote some stories for a magazine called True, which was all nonfiction. I wrote about a dozen articles on World War II episodes, some of them dealing with submarines. Finally I had enough that I could pull together a book. And that was my first book, "Challengers of the Deep." My first published book, at least.