The Gullah story is one of human endurance, adaptation, reinvention and survival on new ground. What happened along the Florida, Georgia and Carolina coastal regions and Sea Islands is part of a larger story duplicated on other grounds around the Globe by African peoples responding to displacement and enslavement.
John Henrik Clarke’s announcement that “the survival of African people away from their ancestral home is one of the great acts of human endurance in the history of the world” bears testimony to Gullah societies that developed and formed on the earth. These societies began to form whenever and wherever various Africans ethnic groups were enslaved together in large numbers, confined in isolated areas, when they were in the majority, and where there was a practice of “mixing” newly enslaved Africans in with the existing slave population. Under these conditions, Gullah communities like those in and along the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor also formed in South America, Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and in the Caribbean. Moreover, they thrived and persist to this day.
The story began early in the 15th century when many Africans found themselves enslaved, and displaced, regarded and sold as human property, an integral part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade that dominated the world economy of the 15th and 19th centuries. This world of buying and selling humans was comprised of slave captors/dealers, the traders who transported them out of Africa to colonies in the North and South America, and their eventual owners. Their labor was sought after on coffee, tobacco, cocoa, and sugar and cotton plantations, in gold and silver mining, in rice cultivation, construction, timber, shipping and in white households.
The other key players were the Portuguese, the British, the French, the Spanish, the Dutch and North Americans. Of the 12 million people taken out of Africa, 38% went to South America, 18.4 % British America, 17.5% Spanish Empire, 13.5% French Americas. As in the case of the Gullah communities that established along the corridor, other societies like it distinguished themselves from this larger population and cropped up as pocket communities wherever the right geography and living conditions prevailed.
Like those within the corridor, these Global communities maintain a strong memory of, attachment and allegiance to African practices and beliefs which sit at the center of their way of life. Wherever they reside, their influence on food ways, art forms, religious practices, music, language, beliefs, values, customs and law is recognized by all who live around or among them. Their presence then and now is evidence of their persistence, survival and endurance out of Africa.