The Gullah culture, though borne of isolation and slavery, thrived on the US East Coast sea islands from pre-Civil War times until today, and nowhere more prominently than on Hilton Head Island, SC. On this small barrier island descendants of the first generations of Gullah people continue to preserve Gullah language, customs, arts, and cuisine. The three authors of Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge 1861-1956 are among those descendants, and in this book, they chronicle the amazing history of their secluded community from the Civil War through the 1950s, when real estate development connected Hilton Head Island to the mainland with a bridge.
The history of these Gullah islanders, little celebrated until now, is an amazing American story. Hilton Head Island was one of the first areas liberated by Union troops after Fort Sumter. With plantation owners absent, the society of formerly enslaved Gullah people embarked on the activities of freedom: enlisting in fighting for the Union army; creating the first black-governed community in the South, complete with a police force; and, when formal emancipation arrived, running for office, campaigning, and voting.
This book illustrates in vivid detail the story of that vibrant post-Civil War era and the tangled perils of Reconstruction that followed, along with all of the progress and setbacks of African Americans in the South over 150 years via the lives of Gullah Hilton Head Islanders. Authors rely on the historical records and amazing first-person accounts they have gathered from their relatives and other community members to tell this riveting story.
About the Author
Emory Shaw Campbell is president of the Gullah Heritage Consulting Service, a Hilton Head Island-based firm. He manages the Gullah Heritage Trail Tours as well as offering lectures and courses related to Gullah Geechee culture. Before his current position, he was the executive director of the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, SC, for twenty-two years. The center was established in 1862 as the first school for formerly enslaved citizens and is currently the leading repository of Gullah cultural heritage. Campbell was the valedictorian of the Michael C. Riley High School Class of 1960. In 1965 he earned his undergraduate degree in biology at Savannah State College (now Savannah State University) and continued his studies in environmental engineering at Tufts University in Boston, MA, where he earned a Master of Science degree in 1971. Campbell served as the first chairman of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Corridor Commission established by the US Congress in 2006 to preserve Gullah Geechee cultural heritage. He has received numerous honors for his cultural and environmental preservation work including honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Bank Street College, New York City, and the University of South Carolina-Beaufort. He resides on Hilton Head Island in the neighborhood of his birth. Thomas Curtis Barnwell, Jr., was born in 1935 on Hilton Head Island, SC, and is a fourth-generation islander who is considered one of the Gullah elders of the island. Barnwell grew up on Hilton Head Island when the only transportation on and off the island was by boat. Like his fellow islanders, he attended the small community schools on Hilton Head through sixth grade then had to leave the Island to attend middle school, high school, and college. Barnwell's work and professional career was primarily in Beaufort County, SC, and included community organizing, community development in healthcare as founding director of Beaufort-Jasper Comprehensive Health Services, affordable housing and cooperatives, and development of family land. Barnwell testified before the US Senate Committee on Hunger and Malnutrition and Human Needs in February 1969 and before the House Committee on Banking, Currency and Housing relating to the National Consumer Cooperative Bank Act in June 1976. Carolyn Grant is a former staff writer for the Island Packet and the Greenville News. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Spelman College, a Master of Science degree in Journalism from Northwestern University, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Public Health from Walden University. In addition to writing for newspapers, Grant currently works in the healthcare marketing and public relations field. She serves on the board of directors for numerous organizations and is a freelance writer. Although now closed, Grant worked with her family's restaurant business, Abe's Native Shrimp House, which preserved Gullah culture and history through the preparation of Gullah cuisine. Grant is a member of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, which is 103 years old.