“To know Gullah/Geechee culture, you have to live it!”
• Carolee Holmes Goodwine Brown
Climbing the Hill each time has truly been a GOD given journey for me. Each time that I have flown or driven into Washington, DC, I could feel the Spirit leading and my ancestors pushing me. Each time that I climbed the Hill, I came back down to the Lowcountry with a success story. I wondered sometimes about the worthiness of the journey and then I would have another connection to help my people. So, I knew that GOD was truly guiding me.
My trips to DC became threatening to some folks because I started to have encounters of the strangest and most dangerous kind like men dressed in dresses following me in attempts to take photographs and having to have security chase them to try to stop this from taking place. I have had folks make calls to institutions and try to prevent me from getting there to speak, but as the imps worked, so did the angels and no weapon formed against me prospered. Ourstory was still told on the Hill by this vessel that the people elected, but prior to it, apparently, GOD has selected. It took some time for me to wonder why this was now my journey as much as I despised engaging in “parlor tricks” aka “politics.” Yet, I would hear the voices of my school teachers telling me “You are a leader. You can do this and you WILL do this!” Some of them were now in the realm of the ancestors and they were the main ones whose faces I would see before my own as I navigated the halls and catacombs of the US Congress simply seeking to take the message that my people told me to take up the Hill.
After all these years journey, GOD had the answer to all of this spoken to me as I sat in the midst of the ASALH Luncheon wherein they presented the inaugural “Living Legacy Award” to 20 women of which I am one. The words came from the podium that was sometimes also a pulpit (as is often the case when you get a gathering of people of African descent together)! The person speaking the TRUTH was Dr. Mary Frances Berry. She stated:
“Leadership is is NOT a title! It is an activity, an action.”
I applauded and wanted to jump up and shout, but kept myself in my chair since I had already been blocking the view of some folks at a table as I was embraced by a Gullah/Geechee woman that shared the pain and the hardships of life that she had been through because she had been a Gullah/Geechee brought to Maryland as a child. Her journey of pain as a child did not cease in adulthood. It simply changed to another set of attackers who were the very people that she thought were her own people. They tried to have her killed for helping her own community when they were the people of the community!
I knew that GOD was speaking to me through her because I could see her ahead on a dirt road and me coming behind her. I felt this same pain as those that seek public engagements and newspaper articles now label themselves “Gullah/Geechee” and work against nationhood and unity while being funded to tell a story that moves the people back into bondage instead of furthering their self-determination. These are the same people that had been behind the phone calls and are like the man with the camera-dressed in disguise. They don’t realize that true people see through the costuming of suits and such to the true adornment-their souls.
This sister and I had no sooner finished hugging and shaking and praising together when we sat to let the folks behind us see and the keynote speaker and Living Legacy Award winner, Dr. Berry was introduced. I wanted to hear her every word and when she started to speak, I knew why. GOD had a message for me in the midst of this celebration of this 1000 Black folks. GOD wanted to provide me with yet another epiphany which came as the words “We must make it necessary for people to respond to us.” struck my ear drum.
The striking of my ear drum was a polyrhythmic rhythm! I could hear the ancestors shouting and the spirituals being sung! I was flashed back over a 30 year journey that led to me coming up this Hill! I followed the beat of that drum before I had lyrics to the song in my heart-“We must make it necessary for people to respond to us.” I could hear the Sacred Gullah/Geechee ancestors saying in unison, “GOD sent you to make it necessary!”
All my trips to this city before and to the United Nations and Canada and other parts of the world were to make it necessary for people to respond to a people that had been beaten, bruised, harassed, and degraded due to their language and customs. A people who were taught that they were only descendants of slaves and not anything more than that. Thus, it would behoove them to assimilate. Yet, to do that would make them the vicious and the envious plotters and murders of characters and individuals that these who had come for this sister and had come for me had become via that process.
GOD dispatched angels to guide those of us that had to travel the pathway that I had seen as a dirt road. That pathway was freedom. “Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitudes.”
As all of this flashed before me, I rocked and listened and listened and rocked and saw the clarity of the vision and the answers to the questions of why. I felt an energy that lifted me to a new place and space. As I raised my head, this room looked different than it did when I first arrived. This ballroom had transformed to another bush arbor. In this bush arbor was the energy of Charleston’s own. Mary Moultrie who had not made it up the Hill, but for and with whom we still celebrated. In this bush arbor was Camilla P. Thompson from Jacksonville, FL. In this bush arbor was Najmah Thomas from St. Helena Island, SC. In this bush arbor was Dorothy Browner-Hubler and Nature Thomas and Pernelope Marion. In this bush arbor where other Gullah/Geechee males and females that did not get to come over and whisper to me where their family members where from and how they wanted to get back to their people and to their roots. There were more of them there who were also holding themselves down in the chairs when they actually wanted to jump up and shout, but felt that they had to wait to get back to the Gullah/Geechee Nation for that because they do not allow shouting on the Hill unless it is staged at a museum for some archival documentation of folklife. There were more of them that did not yet know that they are Gullah/Geechee. Yet, those of us that did know, were shouting for us and for them in this bush arbor.
“We who believe in freedom cannot rest!” said Ella Baker and Ella’s Song was again in my ears as I now remixed it with the song of the drum that made it necessary for people to respond to who WEBE. WEBE Gullah/Geechee Black Gold anointed people!
GOD showed me in a matter of moments that my living had not been in vain. I had to make it necessary for people to respond to Gullah/Geechees so that this day would come when 4 out of the 20 women honored as living legacies would be from the Gullah/Geechee Nation. I had to make it necessary that people saw leadership as an action and not a title. I had to make it necessary for folks to have a reason to return home where many of us have continue to hold on to the land and the traditions in spite of those that decided to work against their own best interest. Self-determination IS our own best interest!
Hunnuh hafa live disya fa kno dah do! Ef hunnuh na kno hunnuh oin’t storee, hunnuh ain gwine kno bout mi! Thus, you might not realize that the balance of the celebration that we have is actually weighed against a great deal of pain and a great deal of work to heal. The work is not yet done. It must become necessary for others to respond to the call for healing and come into this bush arbor with us.
Gawd bless de journee bak ta de sea fa all a de Gullah/Geechee ooman wha da lib wi legasee! We have made responding to our people necessary!
Keep gwine on wid de freedum journee!
Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation receives Living Legacy Award from ASALH
Dorothy Browner-Hubler congratulates Queen Quet at the Living Legacy Awards.
Queen Quet greets elder Camilla P. Thompson before they both receive the inaugural ASALH Living Legacy Award.
Nature Thomas, Queen Quet, and Najmah Thomas of historic St. Helena Island at the ASALH Living Legacy Award luncheon. The latter two are awardees.