The Sweetfield of Eden Baptist Church choir makes an appearance at the Pin Point Heritage Museum. The church is located in the small Gullah community of Pin Point. — Photo courtesy of Pin Point Heritage Museum
Savannah and the surrounding Low Country are part of the Gullah corridor, an area in the United States that extends from the Carolinas down to Florida. Gullah people–descendants of Africans who were brought to America as slaves–lived in isolated communities along the coast, developing a unique Creole language known as Gullah and other cultural traditions that are studied and celebrated today.
The fishing, crabbing and oyster industries were integral parts of Gullah communities. Here, a Pin Point resident and museum employee demonstrate the art of net-making. — Photo courtesy of Pin Point Heritage Museum
One of the best ways to learn about Gullah culture is to visit the Pin Point Heritage Museum in Pin Point, a Gullah community near Skidaway Island. The museum is located on the site of A.S. Varn & Son, an oyster and crab factory that closed its doors in 1985. In its nearly 60 years of operation, the factory employed the Gullah residents of Pin Point. Through photographs, videos and audio recordings, museum guests become immersed in the lives of the residents of Pin Point and the Gullah culture in which they were raised.
Day Clean Journey tour guide Amir Jamal Toure is known for his engaging style and thorough knowledge. — Photo courtesy of Day Clean Soul
Another great way to learn about Gullah culture in Savannah is to take the Gullah/Geeche tour offered by Day Clean Journeys. The name Day Clean itself is a Gullah phrase meaning “new day” or “dawn.” Led by tour guide and historian Amir Jamal Toure, the two-hour tour takes guests to several spots around Savannah, including the First African Baptist Church, one of the first black churches in North America and a stop on the Underground Railroad, and Factors Walk, an area near River Street that once was the center of the city’s slave trade. The tour also visits the Garden of Eden restaurant, which specializes in soul food and Southern fare.
If you’re fascinated with Gullah culture and are up for an adventure, then a trip to Sapelo Island is in order. The island, which is about an hour away from Downtown Savannah, is accessible via ferry, which departs several times a day. Advanced reservations are required and may be made through the University of Georgia Marine Institute at Sapelo Island (the ferry ride is 30 minutes).
Each year, Sapelo Island residents and the public celebrate Gullah culture during the Cultural Day Festival. — Photo courtesy of Sapelo Island Cultural And Revitalization Society, Inc.
Sapelo, a small barrier island that’s protected by the state, is the home of Hog Hammock, a Gullah/Geechee community whose descendents worked on the island’s plantations. Once visitors arrive on Sapelo, they can take one of several guided tours. Sapelo Sights, led by JR Grovner, a direct descendant of slaves, takes visitors to various sites including Native American shell mounds, the newly-restored Sapelo Lighthouse and tabby slave cabins. The Spirit of Sapelo tour, led by island native Maurice Bailey, gives visitors a glimpse into the nature and history that make Sapelo Island so unique.