Conway home to part of Gullah Corridor

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Many people have heard of the Gullah Corridor now recognized by the U.S. Department of Interior. But do you really know about the Gullah Geechee people?

WMBF News tracked down a Gullah ancestor who knows plenty, and she's even teaching others about the culture.

When Coastal Carolina University professor Veronica Gerald isn't teaching students about English literature, you'll find her at her shop, Ultimate Gullah on 3rd avenue. She'll be educating people about the history that ties her and many others to the Gullah Geechee culture and corridor, which started with the harvesting of rice in the early 1700s.

"My people were slaves on the Brook Green plantation, which is pleasantly called Brook Green Gardens," says Gerald. "Brookgreen plantation was one of the largest plantations and furnished nearly 40% of the world's rice supply."

So the people who were brought to the corridor where people from parts of Africa who were growing rice. Rice harvested with sweet grass baskets.

"Rice has husks," explained Gerald, "you'd throw it in the wind and rice takes the husks off."

Gerald also co-authored a Gullah themed cookbook which showcases the food and the language.

In Gerald's shop, you'll find paintings produced by the Gullah people are significant to the actual geography of where we live.

Also unique to the shop is the food...bottled like it was for preservation when budgets were tight. All types of butters, and more.

"So we're proud of having a line that features things like pickled okra and watermelon rind pickles and things that you don't see any more," boasts Gerald.

She adds the shop is all an effort to educate.

"Okra is an African word that has entered into our language," Gerald explained.

Gerald says the name "Gullah" refers to the culture and the language, Gullah may come from Angola where some Gullah people first lived.

"Two tribes that were heavily a part of the slave population and they were the Golas and the Kissi, tribal groups in the area heavily trafficked for South Carolina," adds Gerald.

And even today, the people that call themselves Gullah, live in SC and the GeeCees tend to live in GA.

Gerald says 40 percent of all Africans brought to the country came through Charleston, and by 1730, that population made up 80 percent of everyone living in the South Carolina Gullah Corridor.

"What happened to the Gullah Geechee people could only happen in America, because these various African groups came together, and created a third thing, a culture. That was cemented on American soil," states Gerald.

She says the Gullah Corridor runs from Jacksonville, North Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida and although the living culture is the 11th most endangered, as a Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commissioner, she's working to keep the history alive.

"We've been recognized by the Department of Interior, we are a national heritage area now, and soon you will be able to drive down the corridor, see maps and signs and know where to go," identifies Gerald, "and it'll be a place where tourists can drive the corridor and learn about the culture on their own."

Gerald wants people to know that Conway is a viable part of the corridor, but mostly, she just wants people to learn.

"And any number of things you find in here come from the culture so I wanted to highlight what these people did and created and educate people, so I'm an educator, even in the shop," smiles Gerald.

Another note, Professor Gerald has seen plenty of change in her life. She says she was the first African American female to graduate from Conway High School in 1968.

As for the corridor, the Department of Interior is reviewing the master plan on promoting this corridor, after approval, you could see signs and maps to better showcase this piece of history.

Copyright 2012 WMBF News. All rights reserved.