Finding the Secrets of the Gullah Geechee on St. Simons Island

The Gullah Geechee is the name given to the decedents of African slaves from west and central Africa who worked the southern rice and cotton plantations from coastal North Carolina to Florida.

Gullah Geechee People

More so than some slave cultures, the Gullah Geechee retained a lot of their African heritage and passed down a strong sense of place and family. The Gullah Geechee culture can be found in the distinctive Gullah Geechee language, arts, crafts, cuisine and music. And it’s starting to be shared with the rest of us too.

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

The National Park Service has designated a Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that extents from Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, FL. Somewhere in the middle lies the Sea Islands including St. Simons Island, GA.

Finding the Gullah Geechee on St. Simons Island

I had heard about the Gullah Geechee culture before, but I had always pictured former slaves signing hymns under a live oak. Then I did a story for the Golden Isles Visitors Guide and had the opportunity to interview Amy Roberts, executive director of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition.

Amy’s ancestors were slaves on the Retreat Plantation on St. Simons Island. My in-laws live in a subdivision called Retreat, which presumably was where the Gullah people like Amy’s ancestors toiled.

The plantation era is certainly a significant one in the African American history of the island, but it’s just the beginning, and there is a whole lot more that the Heritage Coalition is working to save…and share.

The Harrington Graded School and Growing Up on St. Simons

The  St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition’s mission is to save and share the Islands African American history from freedom to civil rights. They just completed a milestone in the renovation of The Harrington Graded School, an elementary school that was built for African Americans on St. Simons Island.

The schoolhouse now serves as a cultural center with paintings depicting the struggles of African Americans coming to the new world, artifacts from the school, and a starting point for tours of the island’s African American history.

The day we visited, Amy and her cohort Emory Rooks were at the schoolhouse. Both attended school here and had a wealth of stories about the schoolhouse, what it was like to go to school there and growing up on St. Simons and the legacy of the Gullah Geechee. I could have listened to their stories all day. The video below is just a small taste of the stories. Learn why Hazel’s Cafe was such a success and where the best fishing was on the island.

In addition to the Heritage Center and tours, they also sponsor the Georgia Sea Island Festival in June to celebrate the Gullah Geechee culture. There is lots of music, good food, crafts and demonstrations, plus my favorite stories under the live oaks.

Pin This:


Gullah Geechee Culture

Sue Rodman | Managing Editor & Business Development

Sue Rodman is a mother of three boys, a PR professional, writer, and ice cream lover. For eight years, Sue published an award winning family travel blog called Field Trips with Sue, and produced a TV segment with the same name on CBS Better Mornings Atlanta. In Sept. 2016 Field Trips with Sue merged with 365 Atlanta Family. In addition to writing blog posts and managing the advertising and public relations for 365 Atlanta Family, Sue does freelance public relations and her writing has appeared online at TravelingMom, Trekaroo, Minitime Family and other family travel sites. She has contributed to print publications such as Family Fun, Simply Buckhead, BuckHaven and Publix Magazine. In addition, Sue has appeared on local and national news talking about family travel. Sue believes anytime is a good time for dessert and there are no bad field trips, just better stories.

Be the first to comment on "Finding the Secrets of the Gullah Geechee on St. Simons Island"

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.