African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee

African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee

African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee

African American Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: The Atlantic World and the Gullah Geechee

Synopsis

The lush landscape and subtropical climate of the Georgia coast only enhance the air of mystery enveloping some of its inhabitants--people who owe, in some ways, as much to Africa as to America. As the ten previously unpublished essays in this volume examine various aspects of Georgia lowcountry life, they often engage a central dilemma: the region's physical and cultural remoteness helps to preserve the venerable ways of its black inhabitants, but it can also marginalize the vital place of lowcountry blacks in the Atlantic World.

The essays, which range in coverage from the founding of the Georgia colony in the early 1700s through the present era, explore a range of topics, all within the larger context of the Atlantic world. Included are essays on the double-edged freedom that the American Revolution made possible to black women, the lowcountry as site of the largest gathering of African Muslims in early North America, and the coexisting worlds of Christianity and conjuring in coastal Georgia and the links (with variations) to African practices.

A number of fascinating, memorable characters emerge, among them the defiant Mustapha Shaw, who felt entitled to land on Ossabaw Island and resisted its seizure by whites only to become embroiled in struggles with other blacks; Betty, the slave woman who, in the spirit of the American Revolution, presented a "list of grievances" to her master; and S'Quash, the Arabic-speaking Muslim who arrived on one of the last legal transatlantic slavers and became a head man on a North Carolina plantation.

Published in association with the Georgia Humanities Council.

Excerpt

How do you share an island without destroying it? That challenge became the starting point for a symposium on African American life in the Georgia lowcountry that took place in Savannah in early 2008. Thirty years prior to that event, the state of Georgia acquired Ossabaw Island as its first heritage preserve. By the terms of the preserve, most of the twentysix-thousand-acre island is to revert to a state of nature and to be used only for “natural, scientific, and cultural study, research, and education.” Since that time, scientists, artists, and teachers as well as Boy Scouts, students, and environmentalists have come to explore, observe, and learn more of the third-largest island off the coast. the fact that only a few dozen people can visit on any one day poses a Hobson’s choice. How can Ossabaw be shared without generating crowds of people that would destroy the setting whose beauty and isolation make it so transforming an experience?

In pursuit of the overarching goal, the Ossabaw Island Education Alliance held a roundtable discussion during the summer of 2005 to discuss ways to tell the story of African Americans from their arrival on the island in the eighteenth century until the twentieth century. the tabby cabins, built during the 1840s and continuously inhabited until the 1980s, served as the focal point for this conversation. the state archaeologist has called them “one of Georgia’s most significant archaeological and historical sites.”

The historians and anthropologists who participated in the roundtable discussion recommended that the alliance begin by focusing its attention on the role of African Americans on the entire coast of Georgia. They felt that most writers, when speaking of the lowcountry, begin with a passing nod to the stretch from Georgetown to Cumberland Island and then focus their attention on South Carolina. the Georgia lowcountry has been relatively neglected. and yet the experience of African Americans, both urban and rural, was an important one, not only for the ways that this experience replicated the traditions, culture, and patterns in Carolina but for how it possessed its own unique identity. That identity had to do with the place of Georgia in the larger Black Atlantic, religious survivals along the coast, the evolution of communities like Pin Point, and the unfolding of events . . .

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