The Gullah/Geechee Nation, whose population spans the southern Atlantic coastline in rural communities, is the only group of African-Americans that have retained West African culture as it was when Africans were first brought to the United States as slaves.
Unfortunately for people of Gullah/Geechee descent, however, the deep satisfaction of holding on to their rich heritage and direct African connection has come with twice as much despair.
In the past few decades, both the Gullah/Geechee’s culture and their land have become a bull’s-eye target for gentrifiers, real estate developers, large corporate entities and culture vultures alike. To make matters worse, Gullah/Geechee coastline communities also are being adversely affected by climate-change issues such as hurricanes and rising sea levels. Community leaders have been working tirelessly to safeguard what remains of their land and culture from these disasters — both natural and man-made — but it is proving to be an uphill battle on all fronts.
I had the opportunity to speak with the nation’s Matriarch, Marquetta Goodwine — also known as “Queen Quet” — on how the Gullah/Geechee are being impacted by all of these issues, as well as the fallout from the recent Revelry Brewing Co. scandal.
First, Queen Quet made it clear that when referencing the nation, always cite it as “Gullah/Geechee.” She said using only “Gullah” or “Geechee” or using “Gullah Geechee” without the slash negates the solidarity of the group as a whole. This is one of the reasons members of the Gullah/Geechee community consider the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor a “mock” organization of academics and politicians, many of whom have no blood ties to the Gullah/Geechee. There also is empirical evidence that this organization has been the catalyst for some troubles that the Gullah/Geechee face, such as the Revelry Brewing Co. scandal.
In late September of this year, a Charleston, S.C., company, Revelry Brewing Co., came under fire from the Gullah/Geechee nation for its “Gullah Creme Ale” beer. Unbeknownst to nation, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor had given the company permission to use the name in exchange for passing out their brochures.
Dr. J. Herman Blake, executive director of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, had this to say in response to criticism of the group’s actions: “The word ‘Gullah’ is not owned by anybody.”
Blake met with Revelry Brew Co. before the product was finalized and claimed the company had good intentions, according to CBS News Charleston.