Commission picks path for Gullah people's future

CHARLESTON -- African Americans in the proposed Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor should start considering how they want to share their cultural heritage with others, says Michael Allen, community partnership specialist for the corridor commission. The panel recently took one of the final steps toward developing a management plan for the heritage corridor, he says.

The plan, now in the final stages of development, would guide the preservation and presentation of the Gullah/Geechee heritage, the traditional folkways of African Americans living in coastal South Carolina and Georgia and parts of coastal Florida and North Carolina.

The commission heard the voice and sentiment of the public and stakeholders, said Beaufort County's Emory Campbell, its chairman. The overarching concept of the new alternative, which still is being refined, would enlighten and empower Gullah/Geechee people to sustain their culture, Campbell said.

The commission held 21 public meetings in the four states during 2009 and 2010. Based on public comments, the commission decided it will combine two previously proposed alternatives in developing a corridor management plan, Allen said.

At a Brunswick, Ga., meeting Saturday, it voted to join Alternative B, which focuses on documenting Gullah/Geechee history and culture, and Alternative C, which focuses on enhancing economic opportunities, protecting natural resources and preserving traditional skills. Also considered was a no-action option.

The combined provisions are being reviewed by the Interior Department's Atlanta office. Managing the area, which includes descendants of African slaves who maintained their folkways while separated from mainland influences, was championed by U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, D-Columbia, and others.

Commissioners hope Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will receive and sign the proposed plan by the end of the year, Allen said.

"I would encourage (Gullah/Geechee) people now to talk with their family members about Gullah/Geechee culture," Allen said. Community and family holiday gatherings will present the perfect time to talk about opportunities presented by the proposed corridor, he said.

Those who craft baskets, make cast nets, quilt, crab, farm or engage in other activities in ways reflecting the Gullah/Geechee heritage can consider organizing cooperative ventures, Allen said. Others might consider leading tours given from the perspective of coastal African Americans, he said.

Protection of vistas and burial sites from development is essential, too, Allen added.