Looking Back: Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission
in the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor impacted the 2013 Inaugural Parade with vibrant visuals that convey the spirit of a rich and living American culture that mirrors folkways throughout the African Diaspora. The parade unit displays cultural artifacts that include but aren’t limited to symbols of rice, a cash crop that was produced by enslaved Africans; music that is symbolic of the culture’s religious traditions; and sweetgrass baskets that are produced throughout the region.

GGCHCC float as seen on CSPAN

Commissioners and family members on the float
in the Inaugural Parade
(click on the picture to see video)


GGCHCC inaugural parade float smaller

Float provided by Southeastern Float Company,
St. Matthews, SC

The participation of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission in President Obama's inaugural parade showcases: 1) America’s only National Heritage Area that promotes the heritage of an African American population, 2) a culture that has direct linkages to First Lady Michelle Robinson Obama, 3) a culture through which folk life and traditions continue to impact the American cultural fabric, and 4) a culture that influences military families who reside in communities of the 11 military bases throughout the Corridor.

Click here to see an ABC News Four Charleston story about the making of the float.



Casting Nets by Charles C. Williams, Jr.
Bottle Tree from the Ultimate Gullah Shop, Conway, SC
Sweetgrass Baby Carrier by Yvonne Grover (GA)

In 2006 Congress designated the barrier islands and coastal regions along the Atlantic Ocean as the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-South Carolina) introduced the bill for the designation in 2005. In support of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission's participation in the inaugural parade, Rep. Clyburn wrote, "I am writing in support of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission's application to provide a float for the 2013 Inaugural Parade. As author of the law that created this National Heritage Area in order to preserve and protect the Gullah Geechee culture, I believe this float would be especially relevant for President Obama's Inauguration...."  Click here to read the entire endorsement letter.



Model Shrimp Boat by Louis "Boby" Brown,
First Mayor of Navassa, NC
Zulu Beer Basket by Gregory Grant (GA)
Sweetgrass Basket by William Rouse of Mt Pleasant, SC
Sweetgrass Basket by Helen Burns of Mt Pleasant, SC
Fanner Basket, Sweetgrass Religious Cross, 1 Bundle of Bull Rush by Lynette Youson of Summerville, SC
Two Bundles of Sweetgrass, 35 Palmetto Roses
by Richard Habersham of Mt Pleasant, SC

This National Heritage Area encompasses over 12,000 square miles along the coast through four states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Gullah Geechee people survived the Middle Passage as enslaved Africans who were captured from the rice-producing regions of West Africa. Bringing technological skills and knowledge, they lived and worked on vast plantations in semi-tropical conditions and, because of this isolation, were able to maintain the Gullah Geechee language, arts and crafts.



"Praise" Quilt by Virginia Moore-Gerald (FL)

This participation also proudly honors the heritage of our First Lady, whose ancestors are from Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown, SC. Her ancestor, Jim Robinson, toiled on this plantation, similar to ones as did most Gullah Geechee people who lived in the Sea Islands. The First Lady views her connection to the Sea Islands as a unique opportunity to connect a past noted with the shame of slavery to the triumph of the American people today.


Michelle Obama Quilt
by Vermelle "Bunny" Rodrigues (SC)

In light of the Corridor’s recently released management plan—that will soon be submitted for approval to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior—parade participation impacts the world community by acknowledging the culture’s significance. The Commission’s program implementation plans of Education, Economic Development, and Documentation and Preservation are in sync with President Barack Obama’s economic vision for the nation. Moreover, the Corridor, by law, is partnered by cooperative agreement with the National Park Service.



Walking Canes by Charles C. Williams, Jr. (SC)

Lastly, parade participation affords viewers who have lived in communities of the 11 military bases within the Corridor opportunity to celebrate Gullah Geechee culture and to alter misperceptions of it as strange, undignified, or of little significance. In support of President Obama’s second term of office, the Corridor is moving FORWARD with plans for sharing invaluable stories with the American public.

Comments Made by Float Participants

“To me this is a surreal experience, one that is just unbelievable: that I’d be witnessing—not on TV but in person—the inauguration of President Barack Obama!”

--Latanya Allen, Gullah Geechee community member

“From one who remembers seeing Dr. King speak as a child perched on my grandfather’s shoulders, this is a continuation and fulfillment of a cultural journey.”

--Michael Allen, NPS Community Partnership Specialist

“It’s a déjà vu experience with a shout of joy, a step up from watching Obama’s inauguration in 2009 on TV and feeling I should’ve been there to not only now being present but also being chiefly responsible for how this Commission and Gullah Geechee culture is represented to the Obamas and to the world community.”

--Chairman Ronald Daise (SC)

“I’m excited to give our community something great to be proud of and to allow this recognition to inform everyone that Gullah Geechee culture is important to American culture.”

--Sara Daise, Gullah Geechee young adult

“This is BIG for me because instead of reading about the dream, we are now being the dream. This is history.”

--Simeon Daise, Gullah Geechee teen

“At one point we in this culture could not vote, we were not even recognized as contributors to our country, but now we’re in charge of the country. It’s a beautiful thing!”

--Zelda Grant, Commission Administrator

“Being here is special to me because I went from seeing everything on TV last year to being here in person.”

--Dominque Heyward, Gullah Geechee teen

“From the boat to the float; from despair to hope.”

--Commissioner Willie Heyward (SC)

“This day solidifies another aspect of Dr. King’s dream being fulfilled: the coming together of people from all walks of life and the removal of barriers.”

--Octavia Ivory, Gullah Geechee community member

“This opportunity presents another validation—for the first time in my lifetime—of this country’s recognition of African American heritage.”

--Commissioner Ralph Johnson (FL)

“It means a great deal that we’re supporting our own culture. WOW! We’re doing something greater than ourselves and being a part of history.”

--Commissioner Griffin Lotson (GA)

“King, Obama, Gullah Geechee Corridor, and the float all in one day is overwhelming!”

--Commissioner Eulis Willis, (NC)


The Commission greatfully acknowledges Commissioner Veronica D. Gerald for compiling the playlist of Gullah Geechee song -- spirituals; children's songs; musical genres that were birthed by Gullah Geechee music; songs performed by artists of Gullah Geechee descent; and songs that influenced Gullah Geechee culture --  that was broadcast during the Inaugural Parade. She was assisted by:

  • Dayo White
  • Karen Chandler, Associate Professor of Arts Management and Co-Founder/Principal, Charleston Jazz Initiative, College of Charleston
  • Peter Lurye, who composed and provided the original soundtrack for Gullah Gullah Island theme song.


© 2016 Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor