This Black History Month, get to know one of the most culturally distinctive African American communities in the U.S.: the Gullah people. The Gullah are the descendants of slaves brought over from West Africa to work on cotton and rice plantations across the South; the majority of whom now live in the Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that spans from the Sea Islands of North Carolina to Northeast Florida. From their well-preserved creole dialect to traditional crafts like sweetgrass basket making, the Gullah’s unique culture continues to thrive across the region—especially on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.
Every February, Hilton Head Island spotlights the triumphs and struggles of the Gullah through a series of immersive events organized by the local community. The 26th Annual Gullah Celebration will commemorate the legacy of native Islanders beginning with “The Arts Ob We People,” a month-long showcase of original artwork that represents the life of Gullah people. You’ll also find a smattering of artifacts exhibited throughout the Island, including uncovered remnants of old homes and personal belongings on display at the Westin Hilton Head Island.
Sign up for a two-hour Gullah Heritage Tour led by the Campbell family, who are of Gullah descent. The guided tour invites guests to gain a deeper understanding of Gullah history, food, music, and language with visits at an old schoolhouse, Gullah family compounds, and Mitchelville, America’s first town self-governed by freed slaves. Today’s Mitchelville Freedom Park, a site on the National Register of Historic Places, honors the legacy of this pioneering settlement through ongoing educational initiatives and demonstrations.
On Feb 19, the Coastal Discovery Museum will host the annual Gullah Market, a vibrant gathering brimming with crafts, food vendors, and cultural performances. But those looking to savor the layered flavors of Gullah cuisine are spoiled for choice any time of year, with down-home eateries like Ruby Lee’s South serving up soul food such as staples hardwood-smoked BBQ and okra gumbo.