Gullah commission unveils preservation ideas

The Gullah-Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission on Thursday unveiled three alternatives for preserving about 1,000 sites along the Southeast coast from encroaching coastal development.

The plans include everything from archiving the history of the culture to preserving natural resources and providing economic opportunities for sea island residents off the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.

The culture is known as Gullah in the Carolinas and Geechee in Florida and Georgia. It largely remained intact because of the islands’ isolation along the coast, an isolation that has been challenged in recent decades.

Gullah communities were established by freed slaves after the War Between the States and most people made livings fishing or farming fields of vegetables and row crops.

Now those islands are feeling the pressure of rapid development and are as likely to have golf courses and plush upscale resorts as fishing and farming hamlets, according to an Associated Press report.

The commission, established by Congress in 2006, has been working on a plan to preserve the sea island culture, beginning with a series of 21 public meetings 30 months ago in the corridor reaching from Wilmington, N.C., south to Jacksonville, Fla.

Michael Allen, coordinator of the project for the National Park Service, said there are now about 1,000 sites catalogued. There are an estimated 250,000 Gullah and Geechee in the four states.

“One surprise was getting names and locations of sites associated with the culture we had no knowledge of,” he said.

The Creole Gullah language survived in the isolation of the sea islands. Creole languages develop when speakers of two languages who can’t understand each other remain in long contact, as African slaves did with their masters.

An estimated 10,000 people still speak Gullah, according to The Associated Press.

One alternative the commission has suggested is taking no action and keeping the status quo. The second stresses archiving the history of the culture and the significance of the culture. The third proposes enhancing economic opportunities, protecting natural resources, and preserving traditional skills of the Gullah and Geechee, the wire service reported.

The panel could accept one of the proposals, “a combination of ideas from more than one of the alternatives, or an entirely new alternative,” said Emory Campbell, the commission chairman.

The commission takes comment through Oct. 26 and may decide on an alternative at a meeting in November in Brunswick, Ga.

Afterward, the plan will then be refined and submitted to the National Park Service, where budget and other aspects will be considered.

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