Archive for January, 2018

Fighting for History-The Fort Fremont Story

January 20, 2018

During the annual members meeting at the landmark St. Helena Branch Library, the Friends of Fort Fremont premiered the documentary, “Fort Fremont: The Last Bastion in the Defense of Port Royal Sound 1898 – 1912.” This is the untold story of our local historic landmark and Beaufort’s role in the Spanish-American War.

Friends of Fort Fremont Documentary Premiere

Interestingly enough, the film also provides brief insight into the US Civil War and the role that St. Helena and Hilton Head Islands played in it.   This allowed the Gullah Statesman Robert Smalls to be mentioned within the context of how the naval operations came to be located in Beaufort County, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  Unfortunately, the Gullah/Geechee men that ultimately built the fort were not mentioned in this initial film which will enhance the visitor experience prior to tours of Fort Fremont which is located on historic St. Helena Island, SC.  The Friends of Fort Fremont begin a monthly tour of the site from the St. Helena Branch Library on the final Saturday of each month at 10:30 am.

The Friends of Fort Fremont have raised thousands of dollars which will be used to create an interpretive center at the Fort Fremont site.   They have received a number of approvals for this and have the support of the county to proceed.   So, they continue to seek members and volunteers that will assist with site maintenance and enhancement and with handling the visitors that will be coming to learn of this part of the history of the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s coast.  For those that would like to be a part of the battalion of historians that are continuing to fight for Fort Fremont, attending the tour and/or one of the coming film showings is a great starting point.

As one of the people that fought to keep the property of Fort Fremont from being a site for a planned unit development (PUD), it is wonderful to see the progress that has been made by people coming together to fight for this part of St. Helena Island’s history.   I salute the Friends of Fort Fremont for the outstanding effort!

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)


Queen Quet is a Friends of Fort Fremont

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com) is the first Gullah/Geechee to become a member of the Friends of Fort Fremont.  She was one of the Beaufort County historians that initially fought to have the Beaufort County Rural and Critical Lands Board purchase the site to prevent it from destructionment.  That board and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust purchased the property to keep it public in perpetuity.  The Friends of Fort Fremont have since provided kiosk and brochures so that visitors will understand the history of the site beyond the historic markers that sit outside the fence as they proceed inside.

The organization accepts membership dues and donations at www.FortFremont.org.

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Penn Center and the Gullah/Geechee Community

January 18, 2018

On the cold evening of January 17, 2018, Gullah/Geechees of St. Helena Island and a handful of newcomers to the area made their way into Frissell Community House at the Penn Center National Landmark Historic District.  The gathering was not unlike those that most of us that are native to the island grew up attending.  Folks blocked the doorway as they signed in with hugs and “good ednins” gwine on.   The smiles and “Happy New Year” greetings set the tone for what needs to be a new phase of the direction that this historic institution takes.

 

Penn Center Community Relations Committee Meeting

 

Penn Center, Inc. originated as “Penn School” in 1862 when it was founded by northern missionaries that did not have an understanding of the Sea Island community to which they came.  To that end, they did not respect the local language and felt it was their “calling” to educate the people that attended the school which included insuring that they would not carry on their own language except when it would be done in songs which entertained the potential donors that visited the campus.  These singing sessions continued when Penn closed as a school and became a non-profit organization called “Penn Community Services” and remains under “Penn Center, Inc.”  These sessions are called “Community Sing” and are held on the third Sunday evening of each month.

The Gullah/Geechee family of St. Helena Island seemed to be singing in harmony once again during this first gathering of what is the Penn Center Community Relations Committee (CRC).  The CRC is a standing committee of the Penn Center, Inc. Board of Trustees. It was established on December 8, 2017 in order to improve and enhance the relationship between Penn Center, Inc. and the community it serves.

Interestingly enough, the improvements and enhancements that were stated during the working group sessions at the first meeting included people stating that the institution should not disrespect nor misrepresent Gullah/Geechee culture and that the local language needs to be continued.  The latter is definitely not the duty of the institution.  That is the duty of those that were the native Gullah/Geechees in the room and the others throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  However, the institution’s administration and board are being directed not to go back to what the past was when people on the campus is to denied the existence of our unique culture and our language and degraded the people that spoke Gullah fluently.  This is no doubt a concern given that fact that the institution that had a long history of being operated by Gullah/Geechees that volunteered at the space and Gullah/Geechee staff no longer has this.   The Board of Trustees for Penn Center, Inc. have heard numerous concerns about what this has caused in regard to relations with the local community and their guests that come to St. Helena Island and to that end, the CRC has been formed to address these concerns and more.  The community articulated their concerns via work sessions and came up with this list:

Penn Center CRC 1st Meeting Stop Notes

The community also provided input on what should continue or be kept at Penn as well as ideas on what things should begin there:

This input will be compiled and provided to the board at their next board meeting in order for their feedback to be returned to the community at the next CRC meeting.  A primary objective of the Community Relations Committee is to establish and maintain two-way communication between Penn Center’s board, staff and community members. The Community Relations Committee will host at a minimum, 1 Community Forum each quarter beginning January 2018, and will also provide leadership and coordination for the Community Sing Program.

The community encompasses the locality of St. Helena Island, as well as surrounding areas; anyone who is interested in the mission of the Penn Center, Inc. has an open invitation to participate in Community Relations Committee activities. The Committee is scheduled to meet at 6 pm in Frissell Community House on Penn’s campus on the following dates in 2018:

• March 21
• May 16
• July 18
• September 19
• November 21

This is an outstanding opportunity for the community to loan their voice to the future of Penn in order to insure that it will be improved and be supported for another over 150 years.  The fact that the first meeting was held two days after the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was no doubt Divinely Order since he, too, had gatherings of the community in this community house.   Now it will take those that gathered in the house and reasoned together to keep the house standing and to decorated it in a way that will truly honor our Gullah/Geechee ancestors that attended there and that literally built the buildings that stand as a historic treasure in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  Tenk GAWD fa all hunnuh chillun wha taut um not robree fa be een de numba!  Keep gwine on!

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)

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Queen Quet is not only the founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition which has supported numerous programs of Penn for over 20 years and brought hundreds of volunteers to the campus to donate to and work on the campus, she is also an advisor to the Penn Center Board of Trustees.  Queen Quet has received numerous awards for her community work including the “Women of Distinction Award” from Penn Center, Inc.  From 2013 to 2015, she proudly co-chaired the annual Heritage Days Celebration which is a homecoming for St. Helena Islanders and a major fundraiser for the institution.  Admission to that event will be FREE for 2018 according to an announcement made by the Penn Center Executive Director during the first meeting of the Community Relations Committee.

Celebrating Reconstruction in Beaufort, SC @GullahGeechee

January 10, 2018

One year ago, hundreds of people gathered together on historic St. Helena Island, SC in celebration of a major victory-receiving the Reconstruction Era National Monument designation for multiple sites in Beaufort County, SC at Gullah/Geechee.  Since that time, institutions and organizations have started focusing on the history of the timeframe from 1865 to 1877 in order to offer visitors to St. Helena Island, Beaufort, and Port Royal numerous places in which they can learn the importance of the era that followed the end of the United States Civil War.

On January 12, 2018, the public is invited to join the National Park Service (NPS) and park partners to celebrate the one year anniversary of the creation of Reconstruction Era National Monument. Festivities will kick off at 10 a.m. with a special program featuring music and remarks from the NPS, United States Congressional delegation and park partners at the Beaufort Arsenal, located at 713 Craven Street in Beaufort. The highlight will be the unveiling of a unique piece of art by Gullah/Geechee artist Sonja Griffin Evans to celebrate the park’s anniversary.

From noon 4 p.m., special talks, tours and activities will be offered at each of the four sites comprising Reconstruction Era National Monument:

●       Beaufort Arsenal – Tours of Beaufort’s downtown Reconstruction-related sites.

●       Darrah Hall at Penn Center – Talks, junior youth praise dance and programs on Reconstruction.

●       Brick Baptist Church – Praise dances, spirituals and educational programs.

●       Camp Saxton via Fort Fredrick site – Fort tours and activities relating to the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation at Camp Saxton on January 1, 1863.

●       Old Beaufort Firehouse – NPS and park partners will offer a variety of educational information about Reconstruction and historic Lowcountry.

All of the events for the day are free.

The Reconstruction Era National Monument is dedicated to commemorating the period from 1861 through 1900 when nearly four million previously enslaved Africans sought to integrate into a free society and into the educational, economic, and political life of the country that they actually built.   The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition in collaboration with Gullah African Diaspora Artists (GADA) will host a conference that will delve deeply into the Gullah/Geechee story of Reconstruction.  The Realities of Reconstruction Conference” will be held at the new Mather Museum and Interpretive Center which is located at the historic Mather School campus which is now the Technical College of the Lowcountry.  The conference will give the participants an opportunity to visit several sites beyond those that are officially a part of the Reconstruction Era National Monument.  It will conclude with a tribute to Harriet Tubman held at the Combahee River where she led a historic raid along with Colonel Montgomery during the US Civil War.   Registration for this interactive conference is now open at

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/realities-of-reconstruction-conference-tickets-41538624143

 

Realities of Reconstruction Conference

Hunnuh cum and bring de famlee fa celebrate Reconstruction een Beaufort County @GullahGeechee!

www.GullahGeecheeNation.com

 

January 4, 2018
Queen Quet's Gullah/Geechee Snowman

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com) built this snowman in the midst of the Sea Island Snow Storm 2018.

Well, 2018 has started off as a winter wonderland throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  Folks were posting images and videos of snow in their yards and on their homes and cars as well as icicles on the trees from Florida to the Carolinas.   The storm which under went bombogenesis left the Sea Islands covered in white and then continued northward where many of the members of our Gullah/Geechee Diaspora are located.

Over the past several years, the Gullah/Geechee family has watched The Weather Channel and posted on social media while in prayer for each other due to hurricanes, flooding, and winter storms.   This was no different yesterday and today as we watched a storm that is being called a “bomb cyclone” make its way up the entire eastern seaboard of North America.

Before the storm left the Gullah/Geechee Nation it left behind not only snowmen, cold, ice, and many memories, but also the following heights of snowfall:

  • Summerville: 7.3 inches
  • Moncks Corner: 6.5 inches
  • Ridgeland: 6.0 inches
  • Charleston Airport: 5.3 inches
  • Goose Creek: 5.3 inches
  • Ladson: 4.8 inches
  • St. Helena Island, SC 4.5 inches
  • Hilton Head Island: 4.5 inches
  • Bluffton: 4.0 inches
  • Yemassee: 4.0 inches
Winter Storm Grayson has brought flashbacks to those of us that remember the huge snow storm of 1989 during which we made snowmen and took pictures of this novelty.  It was rare to see snow on the Sea Islands.  However, between then and now, my family and I have gathered a bit of the flurries and made miniature snowmen at least one time since then.   Although that part is a fun activity for family and expands creativity, the trees being weighed down by ice that break are just as with the trees that break during hurricane winds are not fun.  So, once again, we have to be prepared for more than snow days off from work and away from school.  We have to stay ready for emergencies brought on by the impacts of the changing climate in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.
The Weather Channel helped us capture why it is important to the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank and the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition to focus on educating the community about how important it is to recognize climate change and to be prepared for storms and storm related emergencies and recovery:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/240678169?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0

A Vanishing Culture, A Vanishing Land from Weather Films on Vimeo.

https://gullahgeecheenation.com/2017/11/14/sea-level-rise-in-the-gullah-geechee-nation-featured-on-the-weather-channel/
We believe in being proactive.  Therefore, we are hosting two events that will allow Gullah/Geechee families to better prepare for and recover from storms and storm related emergencies.  Both events will be held at the St. Helena Branch Library on historic St. Helena Island, SC and both require advance registration:

Gullah/Geechee Preparing for Storms and Emergencies Workshop

The Gullah/Geechee Preparing for Storms and Emergencies Workshop will be an evening workshop specifically designed for Gullah/Geechee families to assist them with recognizing various aspects of climate change and how these impact the continuation of their cultural heritage and ability to remain on their land.   Participants will learn how to prepare an emergency kit and be provided with necessary mechanisms for contacts in preparation for, during, and after a storm.  The event is FREE.  Space is limited.  Pre-registration is required at
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/gullahgeechee-preparing-for-storms-and-emergencies-workshop-tickets-41537658254

Coastal Cultures Conference 2018-Emergency Preparedness and Cultural Continuation in Coastal Communities

Coastal Cultures Conference 2018
The 6th Annual “Coastal Cultures Conference” will also focus on emergency preparedness and cultural continuation in coastal communities and is open to people from around the world.   The event includes a Gullah/Geechee meal and interactive activities done by the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association members.   Take home materials will be provided to all attendees.  Each year participants also engage in a field opportunity on the island.   Pre-registration is required at
https://www.eventbrite.com/e/coastal-cultures-conference-2018-emergency-preparedness-and-cultural-continuation-in-coastal-tickets-41538499771
All this snow and cold has many people already wishing it was summer time, but before we get there, we need to prepare.  So, we hope hunnuh gwine jayn we cuz de climate sho da change pun dees ya islandts ob de #GullahGeehee!

 

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)

Gullah/Geechee, Hoppin’ John, and Greens and What This Means

January 1, 2018

Hoppin John Greens & Cabbage

Hunnuh chillun ain pose ta gwine een ta de Nyew Year widout de Hoppin John and de greens!   At Watch Night you hear conversations about whether or not certain people have their peas and rice or Hoppin’ John already cooked.  Most times, those making inquiries are not the best cooks themselves, so they are plotting on coming by after day break on New Year’s/Emancipation Day to get a spoonful or so from that elders’ pot.  Yes, the elders are the best source for the greatest pots of Hoppin’ John!

Fortunately, this tradition that began on the South Carolina Sea Islands and Lowcountry amongst the Gullah/Geechee has continued even up to today.   Several sources have looked into the origins of how this all began and why.  They credit the South Carolina Lowcountry of the Gullah/Geechee Nation as the origin point repeatedly.   They recognize the fact that the peas that are used-field peas, cow peas, and black eyed peas came from the Motherland and therefore, the children of Mama Africa continued to nurture their families with these seeds that became staples in the diets of many southerners.   Peas and rice are easy to keep stored for long periods of time.  This was critical during the 1600s, 1700s, and 1800s, and is again becoming critical due to the intensity of storms and other land changes causes by climate change impacts.

Just as Gullah/Geechee farmers adapt and diversity the crops that they plant, the Hoppin’ John has been adapted and the types of greens that accompany them have been also.  Many vegan and vegetarian Gullah/Geechees make their own pots for this traditional meal because they have to avoid the fatback or other pieces of pork that many still add to these dishes.   So, the tradition has taken on a healthier version of the first meal to consume on the first day of the year.  Folks are even getting back to making the cornbread to soak up “de licka and ting wid” from scratch to avoid the lard and other things in some of the commercial cornbread mixes.   So, hunnuh chillun da gwine bak old landmark an ain be fuss kno!  De ancestas da beat e drum fa sho!

Any of our ancestors named “John” have to be shoutin each year at this time since their name is called so much.  As the story goes, there was a man-no doubt a Gullah/Geechee man-from Charleston, SC that used to sell peas and sell rice that the traditional dish is names after.  There is also a story that says that the “hoppin'” has to do wid de chillun jumpin or hoppin around the table fa e plate.  Some even have told me that the man John hopped around as he served the dish!  As we often say, “GOD only knows” how that name got attached to what many native Gullah/Geechees simply call “peas and rice” and folks in the Caribbean call “rice and peas.”

The entire dish is eaten on the first day of the year as a blessing of prosperity for the home and for the people sharing the meal.  The peas are the element that is multiplied easily and are representative of the coins that were desired by our ancestors in abundance for various reasons-to buy freedom, to buy land, to take care of their families, and for general advancement.  (This has not changed, but some folks now only want dollars and do not realize that stacks of coins make dollars!  SMH.)   The greens represent the “greenbacks” or dollars.  So, in all cases, the dish represents financial blessings.  The golden cornbread that goes with it represents that riches our our Black gold people and the golden future we are seeking with each new year as far as I am concerned.

Gullah/Geechee Hill Rice Hoppin John

This year, my Hoppin’ John relinks the diaspora since I have my peas that I was blessed to grow on my Gullah/Geechee family compound embedded in the hill rice that was given to me by my Merikin Family from Trinidad.   The cornbread was made by mama from scratch like she used to make back in the day.   (This is what the stuffing was made out of for Christmas.)  The cabbage and the greens were blended together from the field to top off the richness.  So, as I sit down wearing my cowry shells poised to enjoy this annual feast which I will follow with a teaspoon of honey to insure the sweetness of the year (I learned this from my Mississippi Gullah/Geechee folks.), I give thanks for the manifestations of the seeds of prosperity that my ancestors planted in the soil of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and for those continuing to hold on to this tradition of seeking prosperity on Emancipation/New Year’s Day.  Disya trulee da de #GullahGeechee way!  Tenk GAWD e still gwine on and gwine stay!

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)