Thursday, 27 July 2017
ST. SIMONS ISLANDS: Gullah Geechee People Disappear Under Dollars, But No Schools On The Island
St. Simons is a census-designated place (CDP) located on St. Simons Island in Glynn County, Georgia, United States. The community and the island are interchangeable, known simply as "St. Simons Island", or locally as "The Island". St. Simons is part of the Brunswick, Georgia Metropolitan Statistical Area, and according to the 2010 census, the CDP had a population of 12,743.
Located on the southeast Georgia coast, midway between Savannah and Jacksonville, St. Simons Island is both a seaside resort and residential community. It is the largest of Georgia's renowned Golden Isles along with Sea Island, Jekyll Island, and privately owned Little St. Simons Island. Visitors are drawn to the Island for its warm climate, beaches, variety of outdoor activities, shops and restaurants, historical sites, and its natural environment.
In addition to its base of permanent residents, the island enjoys an influx of both visitors and part-time residents throughout the year. The 2010 Census notes that 26.8% of total housing units are for seasonal, recreational, or occasional use.The vast majority of commercial and residential development is located on the southern half of the island.
Much of the northern half remains marsh or woodland. A large tract of land in the northeast has been converted to a nature preserve containing trails, historical ruins, and undisturbed maritime forest. The tract, Cannon’s Point Preserve, is open to the public on specified days and hours.
Originally inhabited by tribes of the Creek Nation, the area of South Georgia that includes St. Simons Island was contested by the Spaniards, English and French.After securing the Georgia colony, the English cultivated the land for rice and cotton plantations worked by large numbers of African slaves, who created the unique Gullah culture that survives to this day.
The primary mode of travel to the island is by automobile via F.J. Torras Causeway. Malcolm McKinnon Airport (IATA: SSI) serves general aviation on the island.
St. Simons Island is part of a cluster of barrier islands and marsh hammocks between the Altamaha River delta to the north, and St. Simons Sound to the south. Sea Island forms the eastern edge of this cluster, with Little St. Simons on the north, and the marshes of Glynn plus the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.
St. Simons is located at 31°9′40″N 81°23′13″W (31.161250, -81.386875),midway between Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida, and approximately 12 miles (19 km) east of Brunswick, Georgia, the sole municipality in Glynn County and the county government seat.
The Koppen Climate Classification System rates the climate of St. Simons Island as humid subtropical.Ocean breezes tend to moderate the island climate, as compared to the nearby mainland.Daytime mean highs in winter range from 61 to 68 °F (16 to 20 °C), with nighttime lows averaging 43 to 52 °F (6 to 11 °C). Summertime mean highs are 88 to 90 °F (31 to 32 °C), with average lows 73 to 75 °F (23 to 24 °C). Average rainfall is 45 inches per year.
Rainfall is greatest in August and September, when passing afternoon thunderstorms are typical. Accumulation of snow/ice is extremely rare. The last recorded snow on St. Simons was in 1989. The island is located in USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 9a.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 17.7 square miles (46 km2), 15.9 square miles (41 km2) of which is land and 1.7 square miles (4.4 km2) of it (10 percent) is water.
On St. Simons Island, a diverse and complex ecology exists alongside residential and commercial development. The island shares many features common to the chain of sea islands along the southeastern U.S. coast…sandy beaches on the ocean side, marshes to the west and maritime forests inland.
Despite centuries of agriculture and development, a canopy of live oaks and other hardwoods draped in Spanish moss continues to shade much of the island. The abundance of food provided by the marshes, estuaries and vegetation attracts a varied assortment of wildlife on land, sea and in the air.
Commonly sighted land and amphibious animals include white-tailed deer, marsh rabbits, raccoons, minks, alligators, armadillos, terrapins and frogs. Overhead, along the shore and in the marshes, an extensive variety of both native and migratory shorebirds can be seen year-round. Species include sandpipers, plovers, terns, gulls, herons, egrets, hawks, ospreys, cormorants, white ibis, brown pelicans, and the southern bald eagle.
The area surrounding St. Simons Island and the Altamaha River delta is an important stopover for migrating shorebirds traveling between South America and their spawning grounds in the Canadian arctic. As a result of all this avian activity, Gould’s Inlet and East Beach on St. Simons Island is a designated stop on the Colonial Coast Birding Trail.
The waters off St. Simons Island are likewise home to a great variety of sea life, including dolphins, right whales, a wide diversity of gamefish, and the occasional manatee. On late spring and summer nights, loggerhead sea turtles arrive on the beach to lay their eggs. Nests are monitored and protected by area naturalists, and guided turtle walks are available. Shrimping is still important to the region, and shrimp boats are often seen just off the beaches.
Like most barrier islands, St. Simons Island beaches are constantly shifting as tides, wind and storms move tons of sand annually. Along with umbrellas and folding chairs, beach-goers can encounter fast-moving ghost crabs, sand dollars, giant horseshoe crabs, and moving conch shells powered by resident hermit crabs. Sea oats and morning glories cover the dunes along East Beach. Jumping mullet and tiny bait fish populate the inshore waters. Dolphin sightings are common, particularly off the island’s south coast.
The St. Simons Land Trust is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to land preservation on St. Simons Island. Funded by community membership, government grants and local fund-raisers, the Land Trust seeks to acquire and/or preserve land on the island in order to maintain its character and appearance, and to educate the public on the importance and benefits of land conservation. Founded in 2000, the Land Trust had approximately 780 acres (320 hectares) of land under its protection by 2014.
The St. Simons Land Trust is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission of the Land Trust Alliance.
In September, 2012, following an 18-month fund-raising effort, the St. Simons Land Trust acquired a 608-acre tract of undeveloped land in the northeast portion of the island. The acreage includes maritime forest, salt marsh, tidal creek and river shore line, as well as ancient shell middens and remains of the John Couper plantation of the early 19th century.
The Preserve is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays for hiking, bicycling, bird-watching and picnicking. The Preserve also features a launch site for kayaks, canoes and paddleboards, and an observation tower at the north end.
As of the census of 2010,there were 12,743 people, 6,117 households, and 3,637 families residing in the CDP, occupying a land area of 15.94 square miles (41.3 square kilometres). The population density was 799.4 people per square mile (308.7/km²). There were 9,931 housing units at an average density of 623.0 per square mile (240.6/km²). The racial makeup of the CDP was 94.8 percent White, 2.8 percent African American, 0.1 percent Native American, 1.0 percent Asian, 1.53 percent from other races, and 0.7 percent from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.2 percent of the population.
There were 6,117 households out of which 19.9 percent had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.0 percent were married couples living together, 7.5 percent had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.5 percent were non-families. 34.2 percent of all households were made up of individuals and 14.2 percent had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.06 and the average family size was 2.63.
In the CDP, the population was spread out with 16.4 percent under the age of 18, 4.2 percent from 18 to 24, 19.4 percent from 25 to 44, 35.1 percent from 45 to 64, and 25.0 percent who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 51.9 years. For every 100 females there were 85.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.8 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $77,694, and the median income for a family was $104,044. Males had a median income of $52,536 versus $39,881 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $50,043. About 1.9 percent of families and 3.7 percent of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.4 percent of those under age 18 and 2.9 percent of those age 65 or over.
Fort Frederica, now Fort Frederica National Monument, was built beginning in 1736 as the military headquarters of the Province of Georgia during the early English colonial period. It served as a buffer against Spanish incursion from Florida.
Nearby is the site of the Battle of Gully Hole Creek and Battle of Bloody Marsh, where on July 7, 1742, the British ambushed Spanish troops marching single file through the marsh and routed them from the island. This marked the end of the Spanish efforts to invade Georgia during the War of Jenkins' Ear.
It has been preserved in the 20th century and identified as a national historic site largely by the efforts of Margaret Davis Cates, a local resident who contributed much to historic preservation. She helped raise more than $100,000 in 1941 to buy the site of the fort and conduct stabilization and some preservation. It was designated as a National Monument in 1947.
Visitors have been coming to St. Simons Island since the late 19th century, at first by boat, disembarking at the pier on its south shore, and later by car via the F. J. Torras Causeway.In 1938, the McKinnon St. Simons Island Airport opened, serving general aviation. Commercial air travelers arrive via the nearby Brunswick Golden Isles Airport (BQK). Three island marinas accommodate pleasure boaters.
Today, the island is marketed as one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, and visitation occurs throughout the year, but is heaviest in the spring and summer months. Accommodations consist primarily of hotels and private rental homes and condominium apartments, both along the beach and inland. Transportation is provided via taxis and vehicle rentals, including golf carts. Bicycle rentals are also available.
Visitors come to St. Simons Island for its beaches and scenic vistas, water sports, fishing, sailing, golf, historical sites, and laid back lifestyle. The PGA Tour’s RSM Classic, is held annually in November at the Sea Island Golf Club on St. Simons Island.
Ecotourists come to enjoy the natural surroundings, bird-watching, and Cannon’s Point Preserve. Hiking and bicycling are popular year-round activities. St. Simons Island is also a magnet for photographers and painters. Its selection of scenic and historic venues, such as the St. Simons Lighthouse and Christ Church have made the island a popular wedding site.
As a travel destination, St. Simons Island has received recommendations from a number of travel publications and websites, including Condé Nast Traveler, Travel+Leisure, Smithsonian Magazine, Coastal Living, Country Living, and TripAdvisor.
A wide variety of creative artists are drawn to St. Simons Island as both residents and visitors. Painters and photographers work to capture the scenic landscape, and their work is on display in several island galleries. Glynn Visual Arts is a non-profit organization serving local artists with exhibits, festivals, and classes in several media including painting and drawing, pottery, photography, mixed media, jewelry, and many others.
The Literary Guild of St. Simons Island supports writers with literary and cultural events.A non-profit theater group, The Island Players, schedules productions in the Pier Village Casino Theatre.Craft shows are held throughout the year in Postell Park in front of the Casino Building at the Pier Village.
There is a vibrant music scene on St. Simons Island, with local bands and musicians appearing in several venues, including summertime concerts on the oceanfront lawn by the Lighthouse, and classical music concerts sponsored by the Island Concert Association.
Island history and culture are preserved in a number of local museums and sites:
· Arthur Moore Methodist Museum
· Maritime Center at the Historic Coast Guard Station
· St. Simons Lighthouse Museum and the A. W. Jones Heritage Center
· Mildred Huie Plantation Museum at Mediterranean House
· Fort Frederica National Monument
· Christ Church
Novelist Eugenia Price visited St. Simons Island as she was driving from Chicago to Jacksonville in 1961. Fascinated by the island, she spent the next few years doing research that eventually resulted in three novels known as the St. Simons Trilogy. She lived on St. Simons from 1965 until her death in 1996.
After the Civil War, a number of former African-American slaves remained on St. Simons Island, subsisting on whatever they could harvest from their gardens and the surrounding waters. Many later found jobs with the lumber mills starting in the 1870s.
They attended the First African Baptist Church, construction of which was completed in 1869 by former slaves of the St. Simons Island plantations. Regular services are still held today at the original site on Frederica Road, which has been diligently cared for and renovated through the years.
In October 2000, at the First African Baptist Church, a group of island residents and property owners formed the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition to protect and preserve the history and heritage of African-Americans on St. Simons Island.
Today, the Coalition conducts tours of historic sites and produces the annual Georgia Sea Islands Festival to celebrate traditional African-American music, food, and crafts.
More recently the Coalition, together with Friends of Harrington School has organized a successful fund-raising effort to restore the historic Harrington School House, which was originally built in the 1920s to serve the island’s African-American children.
The cicadas' song is rising with the midday heat, and Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine flits from one canopy tent to the next. The fish fry is well under way. There are guests to greet, conversations to be had, and help to offer.
Tall, with a head crowned with cowry shells and robes that flow to the ground, Goodwine looks every bit like a head of state. And that is in part because she is one. The Gullah Geechee Nation in the southeast United States elected her as its head pun de bodee: its queen mother, chieftess and spokesperson.
A self-declared nation within a nation, the Gullah Geechee people are the descendants of African slaves, isolated on the coastal islands stretching from north Florida to North Carolina.
Their ancestors combined west and central African traditions to create a culture entirely of their own. The language they speak is the only African American creole created in the United States, a mash-up of English and African languages like Krio, Mende and Vai.
But as Goodwine settles beneath the shade of an oak tree, she recalls the scepticism the Gullah Geechee face. We don't really know if they have a real culture, she remembers hearing.
The misconceptions worry Goodwine. She fears her culture is in danger of being lost and forgotten, especially as black identity is reduced to what she calls a monolith.
When African American studies first began, there was a prevailing assumption that slavery had destroyed any culture the slaves had brought from Africa. What could have possibly survived more than two centuries of brutality and oppression?
Some academics concluded that blacks in the US had no culture independent of general American culture. That view was championed by Swedish Nobel laureate Karl Gunnar Myrdal in a searing study of the institutional barriers facing African Americans.
Myrdal's work was so powerful that it was cited in the decision to desegregate American schools – but his assertion that American Negro culture was merely a distorted development, or an unhealthy condition, of American culture continues to ignite debate. Was every speck of African culture lost in the trans-Atlantic slave trade? Is America's history of discrimination the single defining aspect of African American culture?
Goodwine bristles at the idea. After all, the Gullah Geechee Nation continues traditions born in Africa, long before white colonisers arrived. The sweetgrass baskets they weave mirror the shukublay baskets of Sierra Leone; the food they eat follows recipes found in Africa's rice coast region.
One of the biggest battles Goodwine faces is just letting people know we even exist, she says, brushing gnats away from her face. Clouds of insects are rising from the nearby salt marshes, where vast stretches of water and grass separate Goodwine's home, St. Helena Island, from the rest of South Carolina.
For years, those marshes helped shield Gullah Geechee culture from the pressures to assimilate, keeping its traditions intact. It is only in recent decades that many of these islands have become accessible from the mainland.
We're not shocked when African Americans, regular Americans, people from around the world say, We thought all black people in America lost all their cultural traditions, Goodwine says. She believes that perception arises from a systematic devaluation of black people, starting with slavery. That was the plan: to programme you to believe you never had a culture, that you never came from rich kingdoms, from people who created math systems and science systems.
Goodwine is attending the fish fry to toast the five-year anniversary of the Gullah/Geechee Fishing Association. It is a blindingly bright day, and over her shoulder, volunteers ladle crisp, fresh fish onto beds of warm red rice. But as the cookout wears on, Goodwine's thoughts turn to heavier matters.
In June, 21-year-old Dylann Roof casually walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, just 50 miles to the north in Charleston, South Carolina. There, in the midst of Bible study, he shot nine African American worshippers in a massacre believed to be racially motivated.
For Goodwine, this shooting was not just a hate crime. It was part of a continuing trend of cultural genocide against her people.
The Emanuel A.M.E. Church is situated along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a region designated for protection by the US Congress. Its history is deeply entwined with the Gullah Geechee community that grew around it. And Clementa Pinckney, the pastor singled out by the gunman, had fought on behalf of Gullah Geechee cultural preservation during his time as a state senator.
The word genocide is one that a lot of people can't handle me using, Goodwine says. Because so many people in the world don't realise that those were Gullah Geechee people that were massacred. Those were Gullah Geechee people whose rights were being violated.
It is a complicated issue, as Goodwine explains, and one that plays into a long-term struggle for the Gullah Geechee Nation. Their homeland is being threatened by gentrification. Their lifestyle is eroding. And all the while, very few people are aware that they are anything other than black.
That's a colour. That's not a culture, Goodwine says. That's a way to make sure people think we're legend, and that we're something of the past, that you only find Gullah Geechee in a history book.
A state away, on Sapelo Island, Georgia, Cornelia Bailey shares the concern that Gullah Geechee life is fading away. She is a local tour guide, historian and author of God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man, a memoir of her life as a Saltwater Geechee woman.
Before the 1950s, Gullah Geechee communities like hers were thriving in the isolation of the Sea Islands. Now, Sapelo Island is one of the few with no bridges connecting it to the mainland. It claims the distinction of having the last intact sea island Gullah Geechee community in the United States, untouched by large-scale development.
I always say, Lord, when there came air conditioning, we were in trouble,Bailey says. She has witnessed nearby St. Simons Island grow into a tourist destination during her lifetime. Vacation homes and hotels have flourished, and property prices have risen. There was a time when most people didn't want these areas because they said it was infested with mosquitos. And now, everybody wants it.
Even in Hog Hammock, the town in Sapelo Island where Bailey lives, she gets offers to sell her land. The pressures make Bailey grim about the Gullah Geechee's future. We will disappear in golf courses and condos. We will disappear under the dollars and cents, she warns.
Now in her 70s, Bailey has seen many of the traditions she grew up with disappear. As she sits in the shadows of her dining room, she remembers the days when she had to drive horses as well as cars.
No one sews fishing nets like they used to. And why bother with subsistence hunting when there is a grocery store on the mainland? Instead of rowing through a maze of wetlands, Sapelo's Gullah Geechee population can now wait for a ferry to come three times a day.
More and more, the Gullah Geechee are boarding the ferry to leave, while outsiders ride the ferry in, Bailey explains. She sees the population around her aging and moving. There are no schools on the island, and few jobs.
The Sapelo Island's visitor centre, run by the state of Georgia, advertises a local Gullah Geechee community of 75, but Bailey says the number has actually tumbled down to around 50. We just like that big number, she adds playfully. It makes us sound good.
At that, she pauses. Her eyes linger around her single-storey house, its walls covered with memories. Newspaper clippings and family photos are framed on the wall behind her. A child's craft project - a paper plate transformed into a spider with googly eyes and pipe cleaner legs – hangs from the ceiling above her fridge.
There has been some hope for Hog Hammock's aging population, including the one-and-a-half-year-old great grandnephew that Bailey helps to take care of. As he blusters past the dining room table, Bailey quickly scoops him onto her lap, interrupting him mid-rampage. The terrible twos came early, she says with a laugh, rubbing the child's tummy. He has already broken into a cupboard this morning and ravaged a box of Fruit Loops.
If you don't have children in your community, you don't have a community, Bailey says. You can't have a community of senior citizens. That's a retirement community. You have to have children to make a community grow.
In recent years, Sapelo Island has garnered national attention for its drastic rise in property taxes. Gullah Geechee feared they could lose their land, land passed down since emancipation, to tax auctions.
It was like we went to bed one night and it was $300, and the next day it was $3,000. We were like, What's going on here? Bailey explains. Many of the tax hikes have been appealed and overturned, but the question of punitive taxation haunts many on the Gullah Geechee corridor.
Gullah Geechee chef Benjamin Dennis IV decided early on to keep his family's property by any means necessary. Distant relatives had sold off their shares, and his late grandfather had received offers for what little remains.
My granddaddy always said, My own grandfather worked hard for this, so keep it in the family,Dennis says. There's no amount of money in the world that could compensate for owning your own land.
Dennis has carved a niche in Charleston's culinary scene, sharing his Gullah Geechee background through food. I call it culture through food. It's a history lesson on the meaning of Gullah food, which is almost a lost art, he explains.
It is a gastronomic tradition rich with the smells of his grandmother's okra soup, her apple dumplings, her rice with shrimp caught straight from the local creeks, fried in rich bacon fat on a cast iron skillet.
But when Dennis works at student kitchens as a mentor chef, he meets high schoolers who live far from food markets with fresh produce, in what is known as food deserts. The only stores close by sell liquor and potato chips, he says.
It is just another way Dennis sees the descendants of Gullah Geechee people drifting away from their fresh, subsistence-based lifestyle. Some can't even afford to eat stuff that culturally their ancestors brought here. It baffles me, he says.
Dennis agrees that the Gullah Geechee may be facing a cultural genocide. A big part of the problem, he says, is the lop-sided history. When he walks through the old-time grandeur of downtown Charleston, he sees monuments to white America and its complex relationship with race. But Dennis does not see the same complexity afforded to black history.
Instead, all he passes are stalls of souvenirs - prominent among them, the Gullah Geechee sweetgrass baskets sold for hundreds of dollars to the tourist hordes.
With black identity so simplified, so underrepresented, Dennis says it is easy to understand why a massacre would happen here.
He believes Charleston would not be Charleston without the Gullah Geechee presence, period. But as long as the true story of that culture goes unacknowledged, racism will continue to fester.
What you see when you come to Charleston is sweetgrass baskets. It's an easy sell. Anybody can sell that, he concludes. But can you sell the pain? Do you want to tell that story? I think it needs to be told, but they don't want to tell it. They don't want to ruffle feathers.