In the late 1600’s, enslaved West Africans were brought to the Georgia and South Carolina sea islands to tend the rice and cotton fields. As the Emanciapation Proclamation brought freedom, many fled to Hilton Head Island and its Union Army outpost to start the first freedman’s village in the United States: Mitchelville. Many of the decendants, known as Gullah, stayed on the Island. Throughout the years, the Gullah have protected their heritage through language, food and customs. Get out and explore Hilton Head’s rich Gullah History:
• On Beach City Road, visit Queen Chapel AME Church (established in 1865 as a praise house for slaves) and the historic Mitchelville site where a new Historic Mitchelville Park is planned within the town’s Fish Haul Park location.
• Gullah Heritage Trail Tours offers a two-hour narated drive through 10 Gullah villages.
• Celebrate Gullah culture each February at the month-long Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration. Enjoy art shows, craft expos, food, film, musicals and more.
• The Coastal Discovery Museum hosts Gullah presentations throughout the year. Sallie Ann Robinson presents cooking demonstrations; Louise Miller Cohen, a Gullah storyteller, also presents programs at the museum.
• Head to Roastfish & Cornbread, and Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s for authentic Gullah food and Lowcountry cooking (shrimp and grits, Lowcountry boil, collard greens).
• The Penn Center, on St. Helena Island, is the site of one of the nations first schools for freed slaves. November’s Heritage Days event feature storytellers and music.
• SWEETGRASS SOUVENIRS: The intricate art of making sweetgrass baskets is one of the most treasured Gullah traditions in the Lowcountry. The craft has been passed down through generations for more than 300 years. A sweetgrass basket is made using a spoon handle to stitch together the sweetgrass. Buy a basket at roadside stands and craft markets in the area. You can event make one yourself at the Coastal Discovery Museum, which hosts basket-making classes through-out the year.