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Stop Sellin Ya Granny an Dem Land!

Published in Northend Agents 2/17/22 View Here

Written by Dawn Felder Boren


Land is such an important part of the Gullah Geechee community. A common saying here is “Stop sellin ya Granny an dem land!” This means, stop selling family and heirs property. The land that we own is our piece of the world and it will be passed down to generations to come. “They” have taken everything from us so surely “they” won’t try and take this sacred, historic property that has fed, provided shelter, income and a place for us to fellowship. We are definitely wrong and cannot let our guards down as we have on many other issues. If there is anything besides our language and culture that will get Gullah Geechee people riled up it will be our land. Our land is being stolen along with entire communities but we are determined to fight.

Let’s back up a bit. Slavery as a business began on the east coast and in the Gullah Geechee Corridor in the 1500’s. Many enslaved people were confused when they arrived because the land on our shores were so similar. Therefore, the risks associated with escaping harsh conditions of plantations was worth it. This is where maroon communities came from. Maroon communities were created by runaway slaves. These areas are undesirable locations like mountainous areas, jungles, forests and in South Carolina’s case, swamps and the coast. Jamaica was known for their long-lasting mountain maroon communities. The enslaved Africans who escaped to these areas were experienced in guerrilla warfare, unlike the white soldiers or plantation overseers that were sent to bring runaways back. Most of them succumbed to disease and were not equipped to take on maroon defenders. This led to white governments enacting peace treaties instead of trying to re-enslave the runaways. South Carolina had the most maroon communities in North America because 80-90% of the population were enslaved people, the climate was rarely cold, there are dense swamps/forests and the coast served as a way of getting food. According to Lockley (2007), "The tidal rivers used for growing rice were very close to large swamps that were not under cultivation, and once rivers stretched inland beyond the effect of tides then swamps became even more common…To the enslaved population of South Carolina, however, these swamps offered a tempting refuge where they could carve out their own lives free from white control." The following is a documented statement of maroons in the Lowcountry:

"Governor of South Carolina received information that 1107 Negroes had left their Plantations…. and joined a large number of Runaways in Colleton County. With the prospect of a full-scale slave rebellion a real possibility the Governor not only ordered out the militia he also brought down nearly 50 Catawba Indians to hunt out the runaways" (Lockley, 2007).

 

Planting is something that has been in our culture since the plantation and sharecropping era. Being self-sufficient was and still is a must for sustainability. Our children are raised growing foods from berries, to vegetables, tobacco and sugar cane. We used these items to not only feed our families but to feed the community and barter. It is custom to bring fresh collards, peaches, sweet potatoes or any crop that they have to the sick or families that are going through a time of bereavement. So, it is much deeper than food.

 

As you can assume having cattle, poultry and pigs are great way of providing food for families but it is also a major source of income. We have our own farmers markets and sometimes an uncle, cousin or distant relative will go door to door to summon you outside to see what fruit and vegetables they have in the back of their truck. I remember my Great Aunt Flossie saying, “Yennah gone to de coop and fetch some eggs for ya grandmama and watch out for snake na.” We loved getting eggs, sneaking in an out of the bull pen and being chased by chickens but being on the water was and still is my favorite. Some Gullah Geechee people fish or crab every day to feed their families. They also sell fish, oyster, crab, conch and shrimp to make a living. Crab cracks, oyster roasts and fish fries are another major time of fellowship for us. It’s a time where everyone in the community come together to enjoy food that was caught and grown by hand. Our waterways have been affected tremendously by development. Crabs, shrimp and oysters are scarce where they use to be plenty.

 

All of these aspects of agriculture directly affect the Gullah Geechee culture and we are in danger of losing some of it. Gentrification and development are disproportionally affecting Gullah Geechee communities on the coastal regions of South Carolina, North Carolina and Florida and is has for a while. If you visit popular vacation destinations like Mt. Pleasant, Hilton Head, Georgetown and parts of Downtown Charleston you would never know that they looked nothing the way they do today. As a matter of fact, at one time Mt. Pleasant and Hilton Head were predominantly black until developers declared these areas as prime property. Charleston has a rich history of disassembling black communities for highways and development. Once development starts, taxes increase and become unaffordable for families that have lived in these areas since their ancestors were enslaved. Then, million-dollar homes and condos are built while families are displaced with no regard. A recent article in The Washington Post entitled “Black people are about to be swept aside for a South Carolina freeway – again” stated, “In a planned highway widening project, 94 percent of displaced residents live in communities mostly consisting of Black and Brown people” (Fears & Muyskens, 2021). It doesn’t stop here though. Coastal property owned by Gullah Geechee people have been taken for years. This is what prompted important organizations like the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, Gullah Geechee Land and Cultural Preservation Project and programs within the Center for Heirs Property Preservation.

                                                                                                                                                                               

Ultimately, some of our untampered communities on the islands, near rivers and swampland began as maroon communities. It’s also why our language has been preserved so well in these areas. For hundreds of years developers stayed away but now the islands and coastal living is prime property specifically in the Gullah Geechee community. Our customs, culture, income and history are being threatened by big dollar developers and a government that focuses on the dollar instead of cultivating their history. I’ve always said that Charleston is the #1 tourist destination in America, has been voted as the #1 City in the World by Travel + Leisure and has earned the #1 spot for The Best City to Visit multiple times because of the Gullah Geechee people. They go to beaches that once were solely ours, they devour remixes of our food and they tour streets and a city that was built by our hands. Tourists visit Hwy 17A and the Old Slave Market to purchase authentic sweetgrass baskets that are handcrafted by descendants of enslaved people, yet, our room, legacy and space on these beautiful shores are becoming smaller as the years pass. We have built this place and our hands made this land flourish. These circumstances may seem so discouraging and it is somewhat but it has also been motivating. The Gullah Geechee people have answered the call to save ourselves so get used to hearing more from us because we will not be moved.

 


 

References:

 

Botsch, C., Botsch, R., Farmer, J., Smith, C., Woods, B. (2006). African Americans and the palmetto state. Capital City Publishing.

 

Explore Charleston. (2022). Charleston is voted the no.1 city in the U.S. & the world! Retrieved from: https://www.charlestoncvb.com/blog/worlds-best

 

 

Fears, D., Muyskens, J. (2021). Black people are about to be swept aside for a South Carolina freeway-again. Retrieved from: https://washingtonpost.com/cliamateenvironment/interactive/2021/highways-black-homes-removal-racism/?utm_campaign=wpmain&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter

 

Lockley, T. (2007). Runaway slave communities in South Carolina. Retrieved from: https://archives.history.ac.uk/history-in-focus/Slavery/articles/lockley.html

 

SCIWAY. (2022). America’s first African slaves came to South Carolina. Retrieved from: https://www.sciway.net/afam/slavery/indexes.html

 

Szypulski, R., (2019). Travel + leisure readers ranked this southern city no.1 in the U.S. for the 7th year in a row. Retrieved from: https://www.travelandleisure.com/trip-ideas/city-vacations/charleston-best-city-us-worlds-best

 

 

 

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