By Dr. Ade Ofunniyin
On October 13th, 2013 the South Carolina State Fair launched its inaugural Gullah Geechie Day event. October was declared Gullah Geechie month by the governors of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.
The three states where the Gullah Geechie Corridor Commission is engaged in developing historic and landmark sites. The event at the State Fair was in partnership with the commission and was devised “to help raise awareness, educate, and entertain the public regarding this significant aspect of our state’s history and heritage.”
The day’s activities included stage performances, craft displays and demonstrations. Featured Gullah Geechie artists and performers included: Ann Caldwell and the Magnolia Singers. The group hails from Charleston, South Carolina and is well known for its performances of spirituals, Gullah poetry and stories indigenous to the lowcountry. “They bring Gullah music and spiritual to life by celebrating the cultural heritage in the tradition of the call and response.”
Sweetgrass basket maker and community activist M. Jeannette Gaillard-Lee was on site making baskets and demonstrating the craft of basket making to young and older attendees. Mrs. Gaillard-Lee is known as someone “who tirelessly work to keep the art form alive, earning income for families of basket makers, as well as increasing economy and tourism in the city and across the state of South Carolina.”
Sharon and Frank Murray, Sharon is best known as “The Gullah Lady” and can be seen in venues throughout the state performing re-enactments and storytelling. The couple was dressed in period clothing and engaged an attentive crowd in rice demonstrations, storytelling, and rag quilt making.
Dorothy Montgomery is an author, fabric chronicler, quilter, and storyteller. She shared her stories about her quilt making and the inspiration behind them to and excited audience of listeners.
Lornabelle Gethers, an author from Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina shared stories from her new book, Honey Bea’s Everlasting Gift. “The book includes the Gullah Geechie dialect of Charleston, with the modern English translation for those not familiar with the Gullah dialect.” Ms. Gethers was also available to autograph copies of her book.
Finally, yours truly Ade Ofunniyin (Dr.O) was there, along with artist Octavious Dowling and teaching artist, genealogist and scholar Ramona LaRoche. The trio exhibited new works by Mr. Dowling, artworks, books, and artifacts from the Heart of the Man Behind the Work exhibit. Ms. LaRoche, representing Family TYES and Low Country Africana provided the public an opportunity to conduct genealogy related research.
The state fair staff and workers were quite welcoming, supportive, and seemed delighted to have the participation of the Gullah Geechie Corridor Commission. Ron Daise and Michael Allen from the Commission were on hand, busily promoting the commissions mission and celebrating the occasion. I look forward to next year’s event and hope to see more Gullah Geechie natives and people from all over the country, enjoying South Carolina State Fair’s Gullah Geechie Day 2014.
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