When you think of Beaufort, South Carolina you likely think of Spanish moss trees, lowcountry food, coastal charm, and scenic views. But there is another side of Beaufort that is not as well known, but is gaining interest and notoriety among culture enthusiasts and vacationers alike – the Gullah culture. While you may remember Gullah Gullah IslandBeaufort, Nick Jr.’s popular television show from the 90s, is an opportunity to combine childhood memories with a complex and beautiful story that makes up a large part of this southern population.
The Gullah are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African American community in the United States. The English-based Creole language has many African language influences in grammar and sentence structure, to which a southern touch has been added (think West Africa meets the South meets the Caribbean). The complex and beautiful story includes storytelling, cuisine, music, folk beliefs, crafts, farming and fishing traditions, all of which stem from West and Central African cultures – which makes sense, of course, when you consider that 40% of all enslaved people in North America are caused by the USA came to port in Charleston.
What many fail to realize, and part of what makes Beaufort County so special (and also unique compared to many other slave ports), is that it was the first place in the southern United States where former slaves could begin to become one free America to merge. Remaining descendants could claim land from abandoned plantations, open businesses, and use Jim Crow’s laws to distance themselves within their private community along the ocean islands.
On Port Royal Island, one of the largest marine islands on the Southeast Atlantic coast of the USA, visitors who want to learn more about the Gullah culture will find numerous opportunities in Beaufort and the surrounding area. Here are some recommendations for exploring the Gullah culture in Beaufort’s lowlands.
Travelers embarking on Beaufort make their first stop at the 50-acre Penn Center. Founded in 1862, the company is one of the most historically important African American educational and cultural institutions in the country. Formerly known as the Penn School, it was one of the first schools in the country for formerly enslaved people. It’s also one of four sites that make up the National Reconstruction Monument, a national park – one of the last efforts Barack Obama cemented at the end of his presidency.
When you visit, be sure to request a private tour of the property with Victoria Smalls, the park ranger with the National Park Service Reconstruction Era National Historic Park, and a Gullah descendant. She will share more of the story, stories, beliefs and creative expressions of Gullah Geechee who are important harbingers of black culture and the broader American mosaic as we know it today. The tour includes Darrah Hall, the Brick Baptist Church and you will also learn about the 1862-1900 Reconstruction period and more.
From there, you want to get some food with a side of the story. Bill Green and his family have been preparing authentic Gullah meals at his restaurant at The Gullah Grub Restaurant for over 15 years. What makes it even better is that the food comes from the farm to the table and comes from his wife Sara’s Marshview Community Organic Farm. Bill follows the rules of Gullah traditions when it comes to food preparation, starting with eating in season. Although the restaurant is currently closed to the public, it is a staple in the community.
For the ultimate Gullah experience, book a tour with Gullah-N-Geechie Mahn Tours to learn about the rich culture and get a comprehensive visit to some of the Netherlands’ most famous Gullah destinations and sights. Explore an episcopal church built entirely from oyster shells by the Gullah, or learn about the oldest Baptist church in all of South Carolina.
If your time is limited but you still want to freshen up, Gullah, the new Gullah Cultural Center across from the Gullah Grub Restaurant, serves as the hub for everything Gullah and Geechie related. From art exhibitions to books and documentaries, this is the perfect one-stop shop for visitors wanting to learn more about this historical culture.
While Gullah Gullah Island The show is long gone, the knowledge it gave our children about the Gullah culture, as well as lessons on healthy eating, telling the truth and problem solving are forever anchored in history.