Marquetta Goodwine didn't set out to become a queen. She wanted to work with computers.
"I'm not a person that likes politics at all," she says. "That was not something I loved. That was something I did out of necessity to help others."
Today, she goes by Queen Quet, and in her elected role as head pun de bodee and official spokesperson for the Gullah/Geechee Nation, she plays an active role in celebrating and advancing a culture unique to the coastal Southeast.
Growing up in a Gullah/Geechee community on St. Helena Island, she had a love of numbers that eventually developed into a love for computers. She remembers taking a programming class where her very first assignment was creating a video poker game. She went on to study math and computer science at Columbia University and Fordham University, and she envisioned a career in front of a computer screen, quietly crafting programs for strangers to enjoy. Her professors and peers pushed her into student government, but after graduating, she worked for National Cash Register in the field of computer science.
While living in New York, she kept overhearing snippets of conversation — on the subway, in theaters, in restaurants — that revealed how little people knew about the place she called home. "There were a lot of negative and mythological beliefs out there about what Gullah/Geechee culture was, like they were just these strange-talking people that lived on these islands down South," she remembers. And with the internet, she saw an opportunity to shine a little light on her community, so in the late 1980s, she started a listserv for people who wanted to learn about Gullah/Geechee history and current issues. Later, on AOL's NetNoir forum, she started teaching a class on Gullah/Geechee culture. The class attracted an assortment of scholars and linguistics experts, among others.
"I found anthropologists who thought that all my people were gone," she says. "I found it very painful to learn that there were people in the world who thought that we were legend, myth, or dead."
In 1996, Goodwine founded the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition, and in 1999, the United Nations invited her to speak in Geneva about Gullah/Geechee human rights and land protection issues. She remembers a swirl of attention after she gave her speech.
"I said thank you, and I stood up, and the world came around me asking for copies of my speech in all different languages," she recalls. "People were just reaching in and snatching these speeches out of my hand." In 2000, she won an election to become the first head of state for the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and her official instatement ceremony on Sullivan's Island was attended by U.N. observers.
These days, Queen Quet keeps a busy schedule, whether she's helping run the International University of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, poring over records in the Gullah/Geechee Alkebulan Archive, or giving presentations around the Lowcountry. She continues to live on St. Helena Island, although she frequently ventures into Charleston, including for the first ever Gullah/Geechee Appreciation Week, which took place July 29-Aug. 5.
Oh, and she's still online. "My drug of choice is my computer," she says. She currently runs the Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest accounts of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, and she is coming close to her goal of getting 9,000 Facebook likes this year.
"I can walk into a federal building, and people go, 'Wait a minute, aren't you Queen Quet?' I go, 'Yeah,' And they're like, 'I'm your Facebook friend.' And they say, 'I love what you do. Keep doing it.' And that makes all the difference in the world. It lets me know my living is not in vain."