CONWAY — Now that a plan to preserve the culture of slave descendants along the Southeast coast has been approved, the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission will be looking for an executive director and seeking partners for its work, commission Chairman Ron Daise said Friday.
The 272-page management plan for the corridor that includes parts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida was more than a dozen years in the making and received final approval from the federal Department of the Interior last week. The corridor reaches along the coast from Jacksonville, N.C., to just south of Jacksonville, Fla.
“Our plan reflects the voices and the consciousness of the Gullah Geechee community,” said Daise during a meeting of the corridor commission in which the invocation was The Lord’s Prayer read in Gullah. The culture is known as Gullah in the Carolinas and Geechee in Georgia and Florida
“I’m so very pleased there is a growing awareness and appreciation of the culture,” said Daise, perhaps best known as host, with his wife Natalie, of the children’s television show “Gullah Gullah Island” in the 1990s.
And it’s not just a regional appreciation. The nation’s newest “American Idol” winner, Candice Glover of St. Helena Island, who was crowned Thursday night, is of Gullah descent and the popular television show showed a clip of the island during the recent competition.
The culture survived for decades because of the relative isolation of the area’s sea islands but now is threatened by rapid coastal development. The management plan focuses on educating people about the culture, documenting sites important to it and developing economic opportunities for those in the corridor. In developing the plan, public meetings were held in all four states and more than 1,000 sites significant to the culture were identified.
Already some road signs designating the corridor have been put up along the South Carolina coast.
The effort to preserve the corridor began in 2000 when U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the first black congressman from South Carolina since Reconstruction, asked for a study of Gullah resources. The corridor was approved by Congress in 2006 and then the work on developing the management plan began.
The commission has opened its own office in Charleston and will be hiring an executive director in the coming months, Daise said.
Daise said most of the work will be done in partnerships with businesses and nonprofit groups. The commission is accepting applications for partnerships for projects that must involve at least one of the main objectives of the corridor – education, preservation or creating economic opportunities.
Michael Allen, a community partnership specialist with the National Park Service in Charleston, has been involved in the commission work from the start and credited many of the people at the meeting with finishing the plan.
“You shared. You argued. You fussed. You might have been upset. But by the end of the day, we were able to produce a document that I believe is the most comprehensive look at Gullah culture ever undertaken,” he said.
The commission agreed to approach the governors of all four states to see about them designating the month of October as Gullah Geechee Cultural Awareness Month.
One suggestion was to encourage people to, on a designated day, put something on their Facebook page or send a tweet to a friend about the culture.