The Hidden History of Hilton Head Island & Charleston

 

Hilton Head Island

I was invited on a nice, quaint weekend getaway to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. While I have known Hilton Head Island to be the vacation destination for the wealthy, I did not realize the deep roots that Africans or “Gullah” people have played in the shaping in the island and region.

Located in the Carolinas and often referred to as the “low country,” this coastal town is now known for its beautiful beachfront mansions, golf courses, and quiet, serene atmosphere.

Photograph titled "Drayton's Negro Quarters, Hilton Head, SC."

Photograph titled “Drayton’s Negro Quarters, Hilton Head, SC.”

However, the roots of this island run much deeper than merely a summer vacation destination. The term  “Gullah” or “Geechee” (in Northern Georgia) refers to the language, culture, and history of the African American decedents of enslaved Africans that were brought to the region. So richly preserved is the culture, they have been able to retain many aspects of their West African culture, from the dialect, music, arts and crafts, to land usage traditions! The Gullah people are known for preserving more of their African linguistic and cultural heritage than any other African-American community in the United States. 

One an excellent recommendation to eat traditional Gullah cuisine, we were pointed to Dye’s Gullah Fixin’s. Honey, when I tell you this food was fantastic?! Not only was the cuisine amazing, but Ms. Dye also took some time to share the history of the Hilton Head, gentrification, and protecting the traditional culture.

Painting of Geechee Woman

Painting of Geechee Woman

If you are ever in the area, consider joining the Gullah Heritage Tour!

While the manicured golf courses and enchanted bikes paths attract a new type of visitor, find the hidden history of Hilton Head Island.


Charleston

I had the pleasure of spending a weekend with the women in my family up in Charleston, SC. Because of Charleston too, is a part of the Low Country region, I again had the opportunity to experience SC beaches and Gullah history and cuisine!

This time, I had to go on the “Gullah Tour” created and moderated by Alphonso Brown. The tour has been featured several times on the Travel Channel, Southern Living Magazine, and copious other publications and shows.

Gullah Tours - Charleston, SC

Gullah Tours – Charleston, SC

Same as the history of Hilton Head Island, some two hours away, Charleston began as a port city (the largest in fact) which transported slaves from West Africa to the States. Charleston was known for its rice which was brought from Madagascar, indigo, and other produce and seafood. Historians even believe that ~50% of slaves that were brought to the States came through this port in Charleston called Sullivan’s Island (aka “The Black Ellis Island). Still keeping many of their traditional customs, the “Gullah” language was created; an English-based Creole language which was officially recognized by the US government in 1939 as an official language.

One fascinating fact to note about Charleston is that the city was never officially segregated. Blacks and whites lived amongst each other and often shared churches. One contributing factor is because many of the Black and Whites in the city were related in some way or another (apparently referring back to slave masters having relations with their female servants). With this, the term “friend of the family” was used quite often when it related to matters concerning each other for a favor such as securing jobs or funding for college.

"The Whooping House", used to execute slaves that rebelled in Charleston. Now apart of a college.

“The Whooping House,” used to execute slaves that rebelled in Charleston.
Now apart of a college.

As a Southerner, I just love porches! It reminds me of the time when I used to sit out on the porch with my great grandparents and people watch. Did you know the architectural concept of porches was introduced by enslaved Africans? Obviously, Europeans did not have to shield themselves too much from the sun back in their homelands, however, Africans were very familiar with protecting themselves from the sun. When houses were built, adding an outside sitting area on the South East side of the home, ensured a cool, shaded area year round, thus creating the porch.

Have you ever been to Low Country region of the US? What are your thoughts?

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8 comments

  1. I loved this! I just did pictures for an article on gulluh culture recently and learned so much. It’s amazing that people these days are still devoted to keeping a culture like that alive and well.

  2. Hattie

    Yes I just got back from the low country great experience. Next time will get to see more really learned a lot about Hilton head

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