The most distinctive food in Charleston can be traced back to the Gullah Geechee people, or rather the people who eventually became the Gullah Geechee. Originally from West Africa, they were brought to the new world and enslaved for generations. Despite a painful existence, the Africans kept many customs and traditions from their homeland. In turn, those customs and traditions infused the South and became staples of their new home.
Today, you can see that West African influence in everything from sweetgrass baskets to okra soup and benne seed wafers, and you can see a pride in the people descended from those West Africans. Today, they call themselves the Gullah Geechee, and they are unique to the Lowcountry. Within the last generation or two, they have begun commemorating their influential heritage. Their language is recognized as an authentic creole. Their influence has been celebrated in the history books, and today the government is helping preserve their culture, creating a heritage corridor along the coast.
Locally, activists like Elder Carlie Towne work to not only preserve and celebrate their culture but to connect the local Gullah Geechee to the African diaspora throughout the Caribbean and the rest of the world. To help her network, Chef BJ Dennis and Desmond Brown of the Geechee Island Food Truck is helping her put on a fundraiser on James Island in the Gullah neighborhood of Grimball Farms. The Workmen’s Cafe on Grimball Road is hosting the dinner, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Expect plenty of authentic fare.