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The BBC featured a Beaufort County community as part of a global series. Here’s why.

Could this song, sung by enslaved Africans, be lost with this Lowcountry 98-year-old?

St. Helena Island resident James Garfield Smalls, 98, sings a spiritual on Wednesday, April 25, 2018, one of many in his repertoire. Smalls is to be recognized by the South Carolina Arts Commission with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award.
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St. Helena Island resident James Garfield Smalls, 98, sings a spiritual on Wednesday, April 25, 2018, one of many in his repertoire. Smalls is to be recognized by the South Carolina Arts Commission with the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award.

A northern Beaufort County community is again in the spotlight for its unique position as a hub for a fading way of life.

St. Helena Island and the Gullah Geechee culture were featured by the BBC as part of a new TV travel series called “Our Unique World.” For an article on its website, the British news giant talked to St. Helena native Victoria Smalls.

The report details the history and culture of the people descended from enslaved West Africans and how climate change and development threaten Gullah traditions of fishing and farming.

“At some point, based on predictions, we will have to move,” Smalls told the BBC. “Yes, there would be culture lost, but we’re resilient people. I mean we were able to keep a lot of our Africanisms intact.”

Smalls, a former Penn Center employee who now works for the fledgling International African American Museum in Charleston, described flooding during Hurricane Matthew and life growing up on her family’s St. Helena farm.

St. Helena, largest of the sea islands east of Beaufort, has gained widespread attention in the past.

CNN explored the island and the Gullah culture during an episode of “United Shades of America,” that aired in May. Smalls was featured in that broadcast.

Weather.com earlier this year examined the threat of rising seas on St. Helena’s culture for a series called “United States of Climate Change.”

“The sea islands are the front line of climate change,” St. Helena resident Marquetta Goodwine said in that video. “We literally live on the water, and I often say to people the waterways are our bloodline, the land is our family.”

Multiple Beaufort County sites became a national monument to the Reconstruction Era in 2017. The sites included St. Helena’s Brick Church and Penn Center, which were some of the first schools for newly freed slaves.

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