Gullah Geechee Historic Preservation Project launches, community input wanted

More than $100,000 is going to be available to historically black and Gullah Geechee communities in the Charleston area for preservation efforts.
Published: Jul. 17, 2023 at 4:46 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 17, 2023 at 6:36 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - More than $100,000 is going to be available to historically black and Gullah Geechee communities in the Charleston area for documentation and preservation efforts.

A $75,000 National Park Service’s Underrepresented Communities Grant program combined with matches from the city of Charleston and the Preservation Society of Charleston totals about $110,000 to fund the 2-year initiative.

Walk through downtown Charleston, and you’ll notice several signs marking a historic event or leading you into a nearby museum full of stories of Charleston’s past.

The Gullah Geechee people trace their history as descendants of African slaves. According to the Gullah Geechee Group Inc., their isolation on coastal southeastern islands harvesting rice and cotton created a unique culture along the coast with deep African roots.

The Gullah Geechee Group Inc. shared in a statement that they plan to use this project to preserve a cemetery in the Snowden Community in Mount Pleasant and to help return property rights to black families who first settled there. The statement reads in full:

Gullah Geechee Group, Inc. is partnering on two fronts - 1) To give voice to the Mt. Pleasant Settlement Community history - Snowden, in particular, where our first VP has a long-standing home and cemetery to preserve (Fordham family); and 2) to assist landowners with retaining and reclaiming heirs property that has been the cause nationally of Black land loss from 15 million acres in the early 1900s to below 1 million by 2015 - including historical properties in downtown Charleston and other sites threatened ny government takeovers and gentrification.

Chloe Stuber is a Senior Planner with the City of Charleson. She says the city has done a good job preserving some buildings and certain landmarks downtown, but there is much more just outside the peninsula that deserves documentation.

“Given the prevalence given the history, they’re significant. There’s rich, rich history in these communities. So much that I couldn’t even begin to say, because I don’t know. And that’s part of the purpose of this effort is to make sure that there’s more support. There’s more resources for those communities to properly document their history, and use that information to advocate for you know, whatever their priorities and goals are,” Stuber says.

Stuber says this project plan is still open-ended because it is meant to be community driven. It is entirely optional, and communities can come forward with what they need and how it will help tell their stories.

“Black history has been woefully underrepresented in our history of the area. And so, this is an effort to start to make up for that. But it’s there’s certainly a lot of work to be done. This grant is not going to achieve all of that with the funds that we received, and this is going to be long-term,” Stuber says.

The community meetings will create a guiding sense of which communities want to participate in and in what capacity. The city lists the following as goals for the project with the understanding that these are early ideas and flexible:

1. Connect a cohort of historic Gullah Geechee/African American Communities with the resources and technical assistance necessary to achieve their historic and cultural preservation goals.

2. Document the historical significance of community-identified sites, features and districts through surveys, oral history, archival collections and other methods.

3. Facilitate partnerships with a network of organizations to increase collaboration and sustainability for ongoing preservation efforts beyond the grant period.

4. Submit a successful nomination for the Scanlonville Cemetery to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and potentially other nominations if desired by participating communities.

Luana M. Graves Sellars, the Founder of Lowcountry Gullah Geechee shared a statement expressing her excitement to learn more about the project.

“I think that it’s very exciting that the city is continuously recognizing the significant value of its Gullah Geechee history, culture and heritage and that they’ve been prioritizing finding new ways to preserve the settlement communities and their stories. The fact that they are embarking on these information sessions is a positive step in making sure that the community is involved and an active part of the conversation. I look forward to hearing more about the project’s scope and participating in any way that I can,” she said.

The following meetings will be in-person from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

• July 20 at Keith School Museum, 1509 Clements Ferry Rd., Wando

• July 24 at Baxter Patrick Library, 1858 S. Grimball Rd., James Island

• August 3 at Mount Pleasant Waterworks, Rifle Range Rd., Mt. Pleasant

• August 7 at J.E. Clyburn Wiltown Community Center, 5779 Parkers Ferry Rd., Adams Run

• August 10 at Cynthia G. Hurd Library, 1735 N. Woodmere Dr., West Ashley

• August 14 at Chicora Cherokee Elementary (Media Center) 3100 Carner Ave., North Charleston

• August 17 at Johns Island County Library, 3531 Maybank Highway, Johns Island

The city will be holding a Zoom meeting on August 21. Click here to register.