Pete Marovich

Shadows of the Gullah

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:




Pete Marovich is an award-winning photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. He covers the White House and Capitol Hill for numerous media outlets.


24 thoughts on “Pete Marovich – Shadows of the Gullah”

  1. I’ve seen these photos before and think it is an interesting project. Good work. It’s hard to get these kinds of things funded, even on kickstarter, which is a shame. Good luck with this one!

  2. Good luck with the project Pete. Love Gullah culture (and food too btw). I love the film ‘Daughters of the Dust’ (though havent seen in since it was first shown) and a great thing to see if you’re not familiar. Ditto the novel ‘Edisto’, though it is not specifically about Gullahs put, well, you’ll see if you read it….

    particularly like images 4, 6, 10…10 maybe my favorite….

    my only regret (as viewer) is that you only offered 10 images. hope you stick up some more to allow the readership to see how you’ve explored their lives….

    all the best

  3. BOB

    Thanks! Yes I have seen Daughters of the Dust. Loved it also.

    As for the edit, I left that up to DAH. We both agreed that we wanted to make sure it was obvious that this is a work in progress and far from complete. There is so much more to do which is the reason for the Kickstarter campaign.

    That said, there is an update on the Kickstarter site with some of the images that I made on a recent trip to Sapelo Island, Ga.

    Link here:

    If the project is funded, I will post updates like this as the project continues.

  4. Pete, fascinating subject. I remember Sandy Island on the Waccamaw River, the barge ferrying school kids to and from the mainland and the waiting school bus on the shore. I believe this is still true today. The area is surrounded by the remnants of 18th century rice plantations, and plantation houses that are now gated exclusive golf country clubs. The contrasts are stark, and ghosts of history are everywhere. Many things have changed, and some have not. It is all very … strange, and more so given my long time away from the south. When I was a kid, I met an elder of the island who spoke only Gullah and their grandchild who translated. I’ve been intrigued with culture since then. Outside of the South I doubt there is much awareness of this culture and the threats that face it. This is a great project. Personally, if I had the opportunity to do only one project this mignt well be it. I hope you consider collecting some oral history on tape along the way. I am contributing what I can.

  5. Excellent, Pete. Congratulations. I hope this piece brings in the support you need to get the grant. In fact, I’ll bet it does.

    I look forward to the updates.

  6. Pete: Speaking of Edisto Island, if you have not visited there yet or have and not met many people, I would recommend looking up a man called the “gator guy” and a couple named George and Pink. (Tell Pinkie the marathon man sent you.) George actually had a documentary film made about his work as a truck farmer. This all goes back a few decades and I can only hope they all are well. These are big hearted people who know everything there is to know about the island and its culture and would be more than happy to help you out. This is a wonderful project. Best of everything to you.

  7. Great and valuable work, Pete. Thanks.

    Not sure how best to phrase this, but I really like that the photos do not show the Gullah/Geechee as victims. Instead, your work is very effective at showing that it’s their way of life that is perhaps/likely to be a victim of larger forces. It’s an important distinction and I suspect all too many photographers would shoot and edit it otherwise.

    I know you’ve shot a lot that I haven’t seen, and I almost always get slammed when I make this suggestion, but for me, the story is not complete without some images of those larger forces that may replace that way of life. Would be even better, to see some juxtapositions of the two.

    Anyway, I look forward to seeing your continued progress on the project.

  8. I feel honored to be supporting Pete’s project on Kickstarter and encourage other Burnians to do the same. It is not about how much you can pledge but about how committed you are to seeing excellent projects like this make their way into the world. The photos are stunning and the intention admirable. The Gullah people deserve to be seen and heard while their culture is still intact.


    Yes, thank you once again for your support.


    Yep, planning on getting the juxtaposition of the Gullah/Geechee culture and the encroaching development. The second image is the best example of it that I have been able to get so far. Believe it or not, it is not as easy as one would think. Some stuff does not translate well photographically.


    Thanks for your kind words. I am not sure if I will be able to reach the fundraising goal but still working at it. I am supposed to get some press in three newspapers along the Sea Island coast. Hopefully that will spur a flood of pledges.

    If anyone is inclined to support the project, your contribution is greatly appreciated. It is better to pledge sooner than later, since I am told that if a project reflects a lot of support, Kickstarter may highlight it on their front page, which helps a lot of projects reach their goals.

    Please take the time to look over the pledge rewards. Everyone gets something back for contributing. And most importantly, it will fund the framing of the exhibit which will be loaned to Gullah/Geechee organizations for free to promote their culture.

    Thanks to all for looking and for your support.

  10. Nothing is more noble in documentary photography than trying to save a culture from extinction. Following the history of the slave trade often leaves one wondering if the price of slavery paid in human sacrifice can ever be erased. Of course it cannot. One would hope that at least the vestiges of this most horrific assault on human dignity could at least be allowed its own evolution, its own peace.

    Removed unwillingly from their own land and forced to live in another should at least bring a sense of humanistic responsibility on the descendants of the guilty to make sure at least that the hybrid culture be respected and preserved rather than be victimized yet again.

    Good on you Pete for giving this important document your all. If you believe in this work, then it will not be wholly dependent on a fundraiser. If you believe in this work, you will figure out a way to keep going until a body of work emerges that will at least be some form of payback to the travesties of our forefathers.

    Surely even the greatest essay you can ever make on the remaining Gullah population can justify the original sin, but at least it can be a testament to the positive side of the many faces of human nature.

    cheers, david

  11. Pete:
    There is a lot of meat on this project—to what extent are you reaching out to preservation organizations and local environmental justice groups? If you want to get as much funding as possible it may help to pitch this project more specifically about documenting cultural resources; in addition to the people. The buildings, landscapes, and community districts associated with the Gullah all likely qualify as various kinds of cultural resources recognized by preservation organizations and preservation law. This status may also provide a tool for the Gullah to use in resisting development. Given all the water and other natural resources braided into this landscape, I’m sure most new development depends on various federal permits. These permits and authorizations in turn require consideration of impacts to cultural resources. In my experience as an attorney working on the applicant side of this issue, very often local organizations don’t know the magic words and choke points where they can really make an agency sit up straight and pay attention. If these resources are documented in the right way and local organizations have some backing from the preservation community at large locals can get much more leverage in shaping development—forcing developers to account for resources before they get their blessings from the feds. This is where photographic documentation can go beyond simply capturing a fleeting culture and help make that culture more durable. I would start by contacting the relevant state agencies that review federal compliance with preservation law—see if they can get the word out to their networks and maybe generate more coin. I’ll post your project to my Facebook page and give a heads up to other folks that work in the business that care about these kinds of resources. I can go into as much or as little detail as is helpful here. Links:

  12. Thanks! This is quite unbelievable. With under six hours to go, one donor pledged $4,750.00 to put us over the top.

    Thanks to all that contributed. Time to dive in now.

    If anyone that did not contribute is interested in following the progress of the project, you can make a minimum 5.00 donation on my website here:

    You will then receive email updates with photos and notes as the project progresses.

  13. Congratulations, Pete, on raising the funds to meet your goal on Kickstarter. I feel honored to be one of many who believed in this project from the start. Please keep us posted as your work moves forward.

  14. Amazing! That is a big statement of support and confidence! Although for some of us, small statements might be just as big. Congratulations again.


    Yes, as a supporter you will receive updates as the project progresses.


    ALL contributions are statements of belief in the story and my ability to tell it. Very humbling and appreciated!

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