Queen Quet Marquetta L. Goodwine, head of state of the Gullah Geechee Nation, has fond memories of a rural childhood on Beaufort County's St. Helena Island. But that way of life is more than just a memory for her. She still lives on the island, and today she is an ambassador for the Gullah Geechee way of life.
"It was and still is a very peaceful community where things are still rural," she says. "You still have dirt roads, you still have oak-lined roads, you still have Spanish moss, you have birds chirping, you have cicadas singing, you hear crickets, and you hear frogs joining in, so you get a natural orchestra every day."
July 29 - Aug. 5 marks Charleston's first ever Gullah Geechee Appreciation Week, with events throughout the week aimed at displaying the arts, cuisine, and history that Goodwine celebrates. The Gullah Geechee culture sprang up on the sea islands of the American Southeast as Africans came to the country in chains and developed new foodways and a distinctive creole language. "Cum fa jayn we" (Come join us) reads a poster for the series of events, which begins Sun. June 29 with a worship service at Centenary United Methodist Church in Oakley, S.C.
At 4 p.m. on Sun. July 29, the Charleston RiverDogs will host Gullah Geechee Appreciation Night, featuring Gullah Geechee presentations, trivia, and history. Queen Quet will throw the first pitch of the evening.
At 7 p.m. on Sun. July 29, native Gullah Geechee Chef BJ Dennis will prepare a diner at Butcher & Bee (654 King St.).
On Mon. July 30, tour downtown Charleston with Al Miller's Sights and Insights black history tour, then head to Chuma Gallery (43 John St.) to see Gullah Geechee artists' work for sale.
Tues. July 31 is Gullah Geechee Legacy Day, featuring a free workshop on heirs property law headed by the Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition and the Heirs Property Law Center at 6:30 p.m. at 284A King St. Queen Quet explains that, in 1862 and 1863, tracts of land on the sea islands were auctioned off, and many Gullah Geechee bought the land on which they had been enslaved. Many of the land deeds included a simple phrase that holds legal importance today: The property was to pass from the purchasers to their children "and their heirs." Descendants of the landowners are still entitled to that land, although residential development has encroached on it in some areas.
During the day on Tuesday, take a trip to the Old Slave Mart Museum (6 Chalmers St.) and the Avery Research Center (125 Bull St.), the College of Charleston's African-American history library.
On Wed. Aug. 1 and Thurs. Aug. 2, visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island, the entry point for more than 40 percent of all Africans who were enslaved in North America. Throughout the week, people are encouraged to visit Gullah Geechee restaurants including Gullah Cuisine (1717 N. Hwy. 17, Mt. Pleasant), Huger's (587 King St., Charleston), Hannibal's Kitchen (16 Blake St., Charleston), Alluette's Cafe (80A Reid St.), Dave's Seafood (42 Morris St.), Martha Lou's (1068 Morrison Dr.), and Ernie's (64 Spring St.). Queen Quet describes the meals at these restaurants as "food the way we make it, not the way that someone else will read from a recipe book and attempt at it."
The week will culminate with the Gullah Geechee Nation International Music & Movement Festival from Fri. Aug. 3 through Sun. Aug. 5. There will be a guided tour of the Edisto Island National Scenic Byway on Fri. Aug. 3 ($20 for Gullah Geechee Sea Island Coalition members, $30 for non-members). Contact GullGeeCo@aol.com or call (843) 838-1171 to find out more details and to register in advance.
On Sat. Aug. 4, the festival will take place from noon to 7 p.m. at the Charleston Maritime Center (10 Wharfside St.). Admission is $7 per person or $20 for a family of four. Events will include a drum circle, a puppet show, a poetry reading, crafts, a choir performance, and a histo-musical presentation by Queen Quet. The day will conclude with a Shout Circle, a ceremony involving polyrhythmic handclaps and the singing of spirituals. For a full itinerary of Saturday's events, visit www.gullahgeechee.info.
The week will conclude with a historical tour from 2-6 p.m. on Sun. Aug. 5 beginning at McLeod Plantation and ending with a re-enactment of the Battle of Sol Legare on James Island. The tour will depart from downtown Charleston. Contact GullGeeCo@aol.com or call (843) 838-1171 to find out more details and to register in advance.
Queen Quet emphasizes that the week is not about preservation. "Preserving in our culture is just put it in the jar, lock it up, put it on a shelf, and look at it until you're ready to open that and do away with the contents," she says. "We don't want to preserve. We want it continued, so it's vital that people continue to understand the dynamics of our self-determination, our human rights protection."