The Gullah of South Carolina and Georgia have lived along the sea-islands of the the region for hundreds of years. Historians estimate that as many as 40% of West African slaves who entered North America arrived through the landings and pest houses outside Charleston, South Carolina where they adapted their West African culture to the conditions of slavery. While their language and culture blends West African and American elements, those who remained as slaves and then as farmers on the sea islands retained many West African characteristics. On the Sea Islands. Gullah music, religion, and language all bore the marks of that West African heritage.
Today only six thousand Gullah speakers remain. The majority of them live on St. Helena, a sea-island across the sound from Hilton Head in Beaufort County, South Carolina. A combination of unique historical circumstances allowed them as freedmen and women to gain title to the land they once worked as slaves, and hence to preserve their culture. That cultural independence has enabled St. Helena to remain largely undeveloped, unlike the neighboring Hilton Head. The surviving Gullah speakers on St. Helena provide a particularly unaffected link to the West African slave culture that has shaped the United States in significant and often unrecognized ways.
This collection is a multimedia archive of Gullah culture on St. Helena and neighboring communities. The Image Gallery contains both current and historical images from St. Helena. The Project Documents section contains lesson plans about Gullah culture and oral history for a variety of grade levels. Finally, the Video Collection contains interviews from Gullah people and St. Helena residents, as well as downloadable PDF transcripts to accompany the interviews.
The Gullah Digital Archive is maintained by Kenyon College Library and Information Services. The Gullah Digital Archive grants permission for access-only to materials in the Gullah Digital Archive. Any form of alteration, reproduction or commercial use of the interviews or other material is prohibited without the written consent of BOTH the interviewee and a representative from Kenyon College’s Gullah Digital Archive. Citations for scholarly purposes must clearly acknowledge the name of the interviewee, the date and the Gullah Digital Archive, Kenyon College. All interview recordings are protected by the copyright of the interviewee and Kenyon College.
Data collection by:
Kenyon College faculty: Peter Rutkoff & Will Scott
Cleveland Public School teachers: David Slutsky, David Kachadourian, Debby Oden, Deborah Frost, Zahiyyah Bergen, Portia Morgan, Jim Templeman, Allan Keller, Damien Johnson, Ismail Lewis
With the assistance of two independent school teachers: Trudy Andrzejweski & Terrence Mooney
Kenyon College students: Rachel Mitchell, Rosa Carnavale-Doan, Reina Thomas
And the help of Hope Harrod of the Washington DC public schools.
Funding support from: Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Mather Foundation, Kenyon College Faculty Development.
Help from, on St Helena: Alfreda Thompson, Mary Legree, Victoria Smalls.
Extra participation from Fezile Isyk and Rena Choplarou, special visitor-participants from Cyprus
Special support from Cornelia Hallinan, Alphonso Brown, Bernard Powers, Donna Scott, Marlene O’Bryant Seabrook, Lee and Audra Cubie, and Ron Maheia. Jenna Nolt at Kenyon had worked patiently and supportively on the project for many years. It would not exist without her. Special thanks to Lena Mazel for extraordinary help in transcription.