• The Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor

    By Nancy Gadzuk

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    Sean Palmer, Director of the Upperman African American Cultural Center at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, was the speaker at the February 18, 2019 meeting of the Federal Point Historic Preservation Society. Sean spoke on the Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor.

    The Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor is a stretch of land about 30 miles wide that follows the Atlantic coastline from Pender County, North Carolina down to St. Johns County, Florida. Geographically, this area is very similar to coastal west Africa, where rice was already being cultivated in the 17th century.

    Enslaved Africans were brought to what is now the southeastern U.S. coast because they had the knowledge, techniques, and skills in irrigation and rice cultivation to work the rice plantations and make them profitable for their wealthy owners.

    Life was hard for these enslaved people. The average life span of a worker in the rice plantations was only five to seven years. Children were brought as slaves because they were young enough to survive the treacherous ocean voyage from Africa, and then do back-breaking work in the rice fields.

    Only recently has the “brain trust” of enslaved Africans been acknowledged for the skills and knowledge they brought to tame the swamp for growing and processing rice and indigo.

    Of course these enslaved people brought more than their environmental engineering knowledge to the Americas. They brought arts, language, food, music, and spiritual beliefs.

    Ivey Hayes, Harry Davis, and Jonathan Green are three African American artists who have featured Gullah Geechee culture and people in their art. Sweetgrass baskets are unique to the Gullah Geechee and the intricate designs and fine handwork make them prized collectors’ items.

    Gullah Geechee language forms the framework for Ebonics and African American linguistic traditions and rhythms that show up in preaching, folklore, and hip hop.

    Spiritual beliefs infuse all of Gullah Geechee life. One example is the belief that the color blue attracts the spirit world. Porch roofs may be painted “haunt blue” to attract spirits, and bottle trees decked with blue bottles are designed to attract the spirits the porch might miss. Enslaved people built praise houses or prayer houses on plantations to maintain and enrich their humanity despite the inhuman and inhumane system of slavery that bound them.

    Each year, the Upperman Center runs an alternative spring break for students, tied to their larger thematic program. The 2018 spring break was “Travelin Round De Bend” and students got to explore the Gullah Geechee corridor, visiting museums, restaurants, and waterways in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Students learned about the complexities of language, slavery, land, and traditional Gullah cuisine in their five-day trip.

    Fortunately for the rest of us, their complete itinerary is available online, and it provides some great road trip ideas for learning more about the Gullah Geechee. There are also links to all the museums they visited:

    https://uncw.edu/upperman/Travelin-Around-De-Bend.html

    Gullah Geechee culture is built on the back and blood of slavery, and there is nothing wrong with acknowledging and understanding all of our history, the negative as well as the positive. What would be wrong is repeating certain parts of this history.

     

    The Early Years of Federal Point History Center

    The 1990s

    ♦  June 22, 1994: First Speaker, Catherine Bishir of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Historic Preservation Section

    ♦  October 21, 22, 23, 1994: First fundraiser “Ocean Plaza Ballroom Blast” Featuring Chicken Hicks

    ♦  Fall 1994: First Newsletter, editor Sandy Jackson

    Ballroom Blast, 1994

    ♦  December 1994 – October 1995: First Preservation Campaign – Protection and preservation of the historic plantation ruins of  Sedgeley Abbey

    ♦  March 1995: Lighthouse logo, created by Martin Peebles, adopted

    ♦  Spring 1995: Agreement with Town of Carolina Beach for the construction of the Beauregard Shipwreck Overlook

    ♦  April 1995: Bingo fundraiser

    ♦  Spring 1995: Ocean Plaza and Joy Lee Apartments nominated to the National Register of Historic Places

    ♦  July 1995: Fort Fisher Revetment Project, advocacy, support, and ground breaking

    ♦  October 20-22, 1995: Second Annual Ocean Plaza Reunion

    ♦  Received $10,000 grant from North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources for compiling an inventory of known historic sites and cartographic inventory of Federal Point, directed by Sandy Jackson

    ♦  May 26, 1996: Hosted a celebration marking the 50th Anniversary of the Ocean Plaza Building. Wilmington Concert Band performed, followed by a fashion show in keeping with the original opening in 1946

    ♦  August 18, 1996: Participated in Belk “Preservation Celebration” fundraiser

    ♦  June 22, 1997: Oakdale Cemetery guided tour by E. F. “Gene” Risley Jr.

    Beauregard Shipwreck Overlook

    ♦  Saturday October 18, 1997: Barbeque fundraiser

    ♦  November 15, 1997: Traditional Holiday Decorating Workshop, hosted by Fort Fisher State Historic Site, with demonstrations by staff members of Tryon Palace

    ♦  February, 1998: First Cookbook

    ♦  February, 1998: House Plaque Committee was formed and drafted guidelines for plaquing historic buildings

    ♦  March 1998: Published Monuments & Markers of Federal Point, North Carolina compiled by Sandy Jackson

    ♦  May, 1998: Fundraiser: Raffle of framed art print of the Federal Point Lighthouse by Kay Robbins

    ♦  Summer, 1998: Entered into an agreement with MOTSU to maintain, prepare signage and protect the Newton Homesite and Graveyard. Work began with construction of a wooden fence

    ♦  September, 1998: The first historic plaques were awarded to the Loughlin Cottage, Burnett Beach Cottage, and Ocean Plaza Ballroom, all over 50 years old and of significance to the community

    ♦  December 5, 1998: “Down East” Barbecue fundraiser

    Newton Homesite and Cemetery

    ♦  February, 1999 – Entered into a lease with the Town of Carolina Beach for the Gazebo structure to be converted into the Federal Point History Center

    ♦  April 1999: Sugar Loaf Battle marker moved from Dow Rd. to Federal Point History Center

    ♦  May, 1999: First Student Essay Contest open to fifth grade classes at Carolina Beach Elementary School was won by Waverly Jones

    ♦  May 23, 1999: First fundraising Cruise – Aboard Pirate IV

    ♦  June 27, 1999: Commemorative Ceremony held celebrating the listing of Newton Homesite and Graveyard in the National Register of Historic Places

    ♦  October 22, 1999: Ground breaking for renovation of the Gazebo structure to become the Federal Point History Center