Written by Laura Wainman, Editorial Intern
My first foray into historic preservation came, albeit begrudgingly, at the age of 10. We were on a family vacation out West, mainly visiting the Grand Canyon, but stopping at what felt like every historic landmark known to man along the way. My dad was a huge fan of any site that boasted the words “oldest”, “largest”, or “historic” on its highway signs, and we inevitably made detours anytime one popped up.
What I couldn’t see at the time was that my dad was instilling in me an appreciation for the historic sites that weave together to form the tapestry of our nation. Flash forward fourteen years, and I have been reading about preservation project undertaken by the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission involving highway signs and heritage centers; I was reminded of my dad’s love of historic sites, and was hooked to learn more.
Earlier this summer, the commission released a 294-page preservation plan aimed at increasing public recognition of the culture and history of the Gullah/Geechee people. According to the NPS Special Resource Study, today’s Gullah/Geechee people are “descendants of enslaved Africans … [who were] forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida.”
They are the ancestors of those who helped make the Southern colonies one of the wealthier regions. The geographical isolation of this coastal community actually aided in preserving Gullah/Geechee heritage, such as the people’s own language and traditions like basket-weaving and storytelling.
The Gullah/Geechee plan highlights three pillars that form the basis for the commission’s 10-year management proposal, including education, economic development, and documentation/preservation. Efforts would include implementing a signage system to brand the corridor and point out major historic sites, and developing at least one heritage center in each of the four states.
The management plan would mainly act as a preservation tool to ensure that future generations are aware of the contributions made to the country by the Gullah/Geechee people and to protect the corridor against coastal development that could wipe out the heritage of these people.
The plan has been a long time in the making, starting in 2000 with Congressman Jim Clyburn calling for a study of Gullah resources after fearing the possibility of modernization of historical sites. The National Trust got involved in 2004 when it placed the Gullah/Geechee coast on its 11 Most Endangered list. These efforts led to Congress approving the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor in 2006, and the creation of the only National Heritage Area dedicated to preserving African-American culture.
Perhaps, thanks to today’s preservation efforts of a little-known society, one day I will be able to share the Gullah/Geechee culture with my future children. I’m sure my dad would be more than happy to visit right alongside us.