The Gullah people are direct decedents of slaves who were brought to the islands from West Africa. After arriving in America, the Gullah created their own community steeped in religion and African traditions. They are known as Gullah in North and South Carolina and Geechee in Georgia and Florida.
When slavery was abolished in 1863, the Gullah people of the Sea Islands remained on the land after slave owners abandoned the area. They continued their traditions – making sea grass baskets, burying their dead by the shore, farming vegetables and fruits and living life simply. Having lived this way for decades, the Gullah are believed to be one of the most authentic African American communities in the United States.
But development is now taking over these once isolated lands and consuming the Gullah way of life.
The Gullah/Geechee Coast extends for hundreds of miles between Cape Fear, N.C., and the St. Johns River in Florida. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Gullah/Geechee Coast one of the 11 most endangered placed in the United States. “Unless something is done to halt the destruction, [the] Gullah/Geechee culture will be relegated to museums and history books, and our nation’s unique cultural mosaic will lose on of its richest and most colorful pieces,” states the National Trust Website.
I moved to Beaufort, S.C. with my family in 1974 when my father, who was in the Marine Corps, was transferred to Parris Island.
At age 13 I was quite unaware of the challenges of the Gullah/Geechee people. What I did see were the changes that were going on in nearby Bluffton and Hilton Head Island. I witnessed firsthand how the development of high-end residential communities known as plantations where taking over the land. I was just not conscious of the effect this was having on a community.
Since the late 1950’s the Gullah/Geechee people of the Sea Islands have been losing their lands due to sharply rising property taxes caused by resort development. They have struggled to prevent their culture, which is rooted in the land, from being assimilated.
In accord with Kickstarter’s guidelines, I have a set number of days to raise all the funds, or the project receives nothing. Marovich’s project has an 40-day fundraising window, from start to finish.
When completed, the photography will be presented as a traveling exhibit and a book. A portion of the funds raised on Kickstarter will cover the cost of framing the exhibit which will be made available to Gullah/Geechee organizations free of charge except for the cost of shipping and insurance.
To learn more and see images from the project, readers can visit the project’s fundraising page here: www.kickstarter.com/projects/1957876924/shadows-of-the-gullah.
Pete Marovich is an award-winning photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. He covers the White House and Capitol Hill for numerous media outlets.