Saturday, October 27, 2007

'Queen' touts Gullah culture

The Queen of the Gullah/Geechee Nation came to town last week for the benefit of her people.

Queen Quet (photo), spokesperson for the Gullah/Geechee Nation, urged city commissioners to adopt an ordinance that would preserve the cultural heritage of Brunswick's Gullah/Geechee community.

The initiative, introduced by Commissioner James Brooks at Wednesday's city commissioners meeting, would establish a Gullah/Geechee cultural overlay district and create a seven member Gullah/Geechee preservation advisory board.

Historic buildings, business districts and areas that support Gullah/Geechee culture would be protected and grant money for restoration could be attracted should the measure be adopted. A similar ordinance on St. Helena Island, S.C., protected an overwhelmingly Gullah/Geechee community from the coastal influx of gated neighborhoods, golf courses and docks.

Queen Quet, a native of St. Helena, told commissioners the ordinance would help Brunswick develop more awareness of its own rich Gullah/Geechee heritage.

"Along the coastline in South Carolina people have no problem recognizing where things that are Gullah/Geechee are. In the Golden Isles if you ask where you can go to see something Gullah/Geechee, they'd probably send you back to South Carolina," she said. "But I see people here on the waterside catching their food or farming the way my grandparents did."

Selden Park was built by the Gullah/Geechee and Brunswick is still home to numerous Gullah/Geechee churches, according to Queen Quet. Old Gullah/Geechee business districts in the port city ought to be known and commemorated.

Her remarks were warmly greeted by city officials.

Commissioner Jonathan Williams acknowledged that many Gullah/Geechee live in Southeast Georgia beyond the well-known Sapelo Island settlement. He spoke a few phrases in the Gullah dialect to demonstrate his understanding of the point.

Commissioner Cornell Harvell noted historic preservation is already something the city supports.

"To preserve the Gullah/Geechee history is something we should do," he said. "We do that for all of historic Brunswick anyway."

Brooks said he believed a Gullah/Geechee cultural preservation ordinance could have prevented Selden Park's old gym from being demolished.

"This would give people a sense of pride in our community. People from all over who come to the Golden Isles would know the history of this city," he said.

The Gullah/Geechee are descendents of the African slaves brought from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea to barrier islands along the Florida, Georgia and Carolinas coast. Because of their relative isolation on the sea islands, many African cultural traditions have remained intact.

In 1999, the United Nations officially named the Gullah/Geechee a linguistic minority that deserved protection. Following a National Park Service study that showed the national significance of Gullah culture, in 2006 Congress recognized the coastal region from Jacksonville, Fla., to Jacksonville, N.C., as a Gullah/Geechee cultural heritage corridor and awarded $10 million toward its protection and redevelopment.

In July 2000, the Gullah/Geechee Nation came into existence and named Marquetta Goodwine, a historian and international advocate for the Gullah/Geechee, Queen Quet, the nation's first chief of state.

Jacksonville.com: Georgia: Story: 'Queen' touts Gullah culture