South Carolina

‘Ain’ nothing wrong with that.’ On Hilton Head Island, Gullah matriarch turns 100

Gertrude Grant
Gertrude Grant Submitted

Gertrude Brown Grant has been a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and a whole lot of everything in a century on Hilton Head Island.

She was honored by family and friends over Labor Day Weekend after turning 100 on Aug. 27. One of her relatives, Hilton Head Island Town Council member Marc Grant, presented her with a commendation from Mayor David Bennett citing her “many contributions to her family, her church and the Hilton Head Island community.”

Few will ever see a life like Gertrude Grant’s.

She was born four decades before Hilton Head has its first bridge to the mainland — long before there was electricity or schools beyond one-room schoolhouses.

She would catch the wave of opportunity that slowly rolled over that bridge, working for the J. Wilton Graves family in the earliest motel, the Sea Crest.

And in 1964, she and her late husband, Solomon Edward Grant Sr., opened the first produce stand on U.S. 278. It’s still there, near Singleton Beach Road. It’s right by the home Solomon Grant built by hand, where Gertrude still lives. And it sits behind another produce stand that is almost as old. It was operated for decades by the late Janie Aiken Grant, and now operated by her children.

Gertrude Grant sold vegetables grown by her husband and tended by their five children. She canned vegetables, jellies, pickles and relishes. She shelled peas and beans, sometimes with the help of grandchildren. And she also sold her hand-sewn quilts.

“One thing I remember about my grandmother is her sense of entrepreneurship up into her 90s, serving people with her fresh produce,” said granddaughter Courtney N. Aiken, herself an entrepreneur in Atlanta, where she graduated from Spelman College in 2007.

Gertrude was the youngest of six children born to the late William “Boney” Brown Sr. and Lillian Nancy Brown. Her father started a school and was a traveling minister. He owned property on Squire Pope Road and was an entrepreneur who believed all his children should own a business.

He operated a mercantile store in the family home that was called “Mr. Boney Brown Store.”

Boney Brown’s wife died shortly after Gertrude’s birth, and he raised the children. The late William Brown Jr. operated the store until the mid-1980s.

Gertrude married Solomon Grant on Feb. 6, 1943, and moved to the Chaplin community. He was a jack of all trades, said their daughter, Estelle Brown Aiken of Gum Tree Road. He planted crops and raised farm animals of all types. He was a fisherman. He worked for the Hilton Head Agricultural Co. hunt club in what is now Palmetto Dunes and Shelter Cove.

They sent all five children to college: Estelle, Solomon “Eddie” Jr., Cornell, Lillian and Debbie. Eddie raised and sold produce on Squire Pope Road, at a stand now run by his sisters Estelle and Lillian. Estelle learned canning at their mother’s knee and still sells canned goods made in her home.

Gertrude Grant has 12 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter.

She is the Mother of the Church at Queen Chapel A.M.E. Church on Beach City Road. She was raised in the church and served on its Stewardess Board and Missionary Board, which helped the sick and elderly of Hilton Head’s Gullah community.

“She is the last of the great servants that came out of Queen Chapel A.M.E. Church,” said her relative, Moses Grant.

Today, age is slowly stilling the voice of Gertrude Grant, who was never afraid to speak her mind.

But when she saw her brightly decorated birthday cake and cupcakes — and a dinner of baked chicken, red rice, potato salad and boiled crab for a crowd of almost 50 — she asked, “All of this for me?”

And when Carolyn Grant asked her “Cuz’n Gertie” what she thought about being 100 years old, she replied, “Ain’ nothing wrong with that.”

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale