Photo Credit: Courtesy of @kelseydashmarie
Here's Why Everyone Should Experience The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor
I started 2023 off with a trip exploring the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Excitement was an understatement when I first learned about the trip. I’d known of the Gullah people from watching “Gullah Gullah Island” as a child. Months leading up to the trip, I told everyone who would listen that I was going to South Carolina and Georgia to learn more about the Gullah people and culture. To my surprise, many people had no idea what I was talking about. A few of my friends that watched “Gullah Gullah Island” thought being Gullah was fictional. After my week-long experience learning about the history, culture, food and language of the Gullah people, it’s only right that I share what I learned with you.
Why the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor?
I joined a group of Black and Brown women journalists from around the world on a trip of a lifetime. We were the first to experience this itinerary, whose purpose is to expose travelers to the vibrant legacy of Gullah culture.
The tour is the brainchild of Blacks in Travel & Tourism and Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism, Inc, who partnered with Intrepid Travel, the largest adventure travel company in the world.
“We are excited to partner with Intrepid Travel as its company’s mission aligns with our mission to level the playing field and create equitable opportunities for small Black suppliers in underrepresented communities in the U.S. to thrive in the travel and tourism industry,” says Stephanie M. Jones, CEO, Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism, Inc. and Founder, Blacks in Travel & Tourism.
Additionally, Jones shares, “Our multi-day Black cultural heritage tour itineraries are designed to amplify and strengthen local Black-owned businesses while providing transformative experiences for culturally curious travelers.”
Related: Intrepid Travel Launches Over 80 New Experiences In 2023
About the Gullah Geechee people
What I found fascinating about this tour was meeting Gullah people who have protected, preserved and passed on their West African culture for hundreds of years through food, music, language, spirituality and family. A familiarity was felt while being among the Gullah people. They reminded me of my Trinidadian heritage with their accents and traditional cuisine.
The Gullah Geechee people are the direct descendants of West Africans who were brought to the United States through the transatlantic slave trade. Located on isolated islands along the coasts of South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, enslaved ancestors created a unique culture that was preserved and passed down for generations.
In October 2006, an Act of Congress designated the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor as part of the National Heritage Areas Act.
Starting in Charleston
Our trip started in Charleston, South Carolina, with a welcome dinner at My 3 Sons of Charleston. This Black-owned mother and son operated restaurant serves delicious soul food. The next few days consisted of a lot of learning and unlearning, which sometimes got emotionally heavy.
Visiting The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, referred to as Mother Emanuel, was one of those heavy moments. The church is the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the Southern United States. In 2015, the church experienced tragedy when a white supremacist entered the lower level and killed nine members, including the pastor, after joining for an hour of bible study. It was an intense experience, to say the least. Learning about how the church moved in love after the tragedy was great. Although the church is going through renovations, there are still services.
Following lunch, we had a chance to attend a sweetgrass basket weaving workshop led by a third-generation Gullah Geechee descendant, Mrs. Lucille Smith. These baskets have been in the Gullah community for generations. With the initial intention to be a tool for rice production, today, these baskets are an art form.
What I love about this tour is the emphasis on amplifying Black-owned businesses. Some of the partners include Sights & Insights Tours, owned and operated by Al Miller, and C&S Tours + Transport, a Black woman-owned travel agency.
History in St. Helena Island
We then hopped on a bus and traveled to St. Helena Island. Here, we learned more about the history of the Gullah Geechee people. We enjoyed a storytelling performance at the Gullah Geechee Cultural Visitors Center by Anita Singleton-Prather, aka Aunt Pearlie Sue.
Ending in Savannah, Georgia
The tour ended in Savannah, Georgia. We visited Pin Point Heritage Museum and learned about the history of residents who grew up in the close-knit community.
I ultimately experienced so much more on this tour that has transformed how I view travel in the United States. My experience has inspired me to prioritize learning more about Black American history.
If you’re eager to learn more about the Gullah Geechee people, I highly suggest going.
Learn more about the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Tour here.
Related: Charleston, South Carolina’s Largest Black Food Truck Festival Yet, Here’s What To Know