Destination Vacation: Diving into the history of the Gullah Geechee

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – The Gullah Geechee have a rich cultural legacy along the lower Atlantic coast. Their influence can be seen and tasted around every corner of Charleston, South Carolina.

The Gullah Geechee people are descendants of African slaves who were brought to America to work on rice, indigo, and cotton plantations. Their African roots created a unique heritage in art, music, cuisine and more.

One of the most iconic art forms in Charleston is the sweetgrass basket. The hand-woven technique originated in Africa and has remained an important part of Gullah Geechee culture.

Heather Hodges is the Executive Director of The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a National Heritage Area designated by Congress to preserve and share history.

“I believe that Gullah Geechee culture is foundational for this country. Certainly for the South and the Lowcountry where we are; the foodways of the Gullah Geechee people, the language of the Gullah Geechee people,” says Hodges.

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is 12,000 square miles long, stretching from North Carolina to Florida. The land is comprised of numerous historic and cultural spots that are significant to the Gullah Geechee people.

“It’s a wide range of places and spaces that people can visit to learn more about Gullah Geechee history and culture all from a social distance,” says Hodges.

Visiting the Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, South Carolina is described as “taking a step back in time.” The former rice plantations are a prime example of the technological and agricultural skills of the Gullah Geechee.

Caw Caw Interpretive Center in Ravenel, SC
Source: Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor

“The Caw Caw was once part of several rice plantations and home to enslaved Africans who applied their skills in technology and agriculture to carve a series of rice fields out of what were cypress swamps,” says Hodges.

Hodges says no trip to Charleston is complete without tasting Gullah Geechee cuisine. Their dishes will often include key ingredients such as rice, okra, corn, collard greens and fresh seafood.

“I think the most visible way to see the influence in culture and experience it, particularly here in South Carolina, is in the foodways,” says Hodges. “So, if you’ve ever had red rice or shrimp and grits, then you’re experiencing Gullah-Geechee foodways.”

The history and traditions of the Gullah Geechee will always be an important part of Charleston. Without their influence, the Holy City wouldn’t be the same. If you want to experience the cuisine, art, music and unique culture of the Gullah Geechee, consider Charleston, South Carolina for your next vacation.

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