Dr. King: The Sea Islands and Self-Determination

by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com)

“I’m not gonna say, ‘Burn baby burn’!”  I’m gonna say “Build baby build!”

• Dr. Martin L, King Jr. on speech July 30, 1967 in Charleston, SC

These words coupled with the statement “Believe in yourself and believe you are somebody!…Be proud of our heritage!” are words of motivation that still ring true all of these years after they were first stated by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he traveled from southern town to southern town inspiring and uplifting his people.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Penn Center's Frissell Hall on historic St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  www.gullahgeecheenation.com

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at Penn Center’s Frissell Hall on historic St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. http://www.gullahgeecheenation.com

Interestingly enough, there are close to 700 streets, roads, drives, and boulevards named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that stand as a testament to his level of on-going influence.  However, the number of these thoroughfares that he actually traveled is limited.  On St. Helena Island the stretch of Land’s End Road from Highway 21/Sea Island Parkway through the Penn Center National Landmark Historic District was renamed “Dr. Martin Luther King Drive” due the fact that Dr. King and members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) traveled this road numerous times during the planning of the strategies for what has come to be known at the “Civil Rights Movement.”  Dr. King came to St. Helena Island as a place of retreat on which he could be safe and be at peace as he wrote numerous speeches and also started to develop the “Poor People’s Campaign”  which the Southern Christian Leadership Conference would lead to the capitol of the United States, Washington, DC in order to demand economic and human rights for Blacks, Native Americans, Hispanics, and low income whites.  They sought to have an “Economic Bill of Rights” established.  Dr. King began organizing this campaign on St. Helena Island (then called “Frogmore” which was actually a reference to one community on the island and not the entire island) in May 1967.  He made it clear to his staff that:

You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry…. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong… with capitalism…. There must be a better distribution of wealth…“.

• Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. Helena Island, (Frogmore), S.C. November 14, 1966. Speech in front of his staff.

With this statement, he made it clear that they were moving from “reform” to “revolution” and from an era of “civil rights to human rights.”  To proceed with the planning for this major endeavor, Dr. King and SCLC convened a five day meeting at Penn Center for Community Services on historic St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation.  This meeting took place November 27-31, 1967.  The plans were the laid to occupy Washington DC without rioting or destroying property.  However, there were a number of people that disagreed with what was being presented and dissent began and many wanted to follow their own route instead of participating in this plan.   Dr. King was not discouraged and he continued to travel making speeches and galvanizing support for this campaign.  As it gained momentum in 1968, he was assassinated.

Although a man who was a tremendous leader was murdered because he stood up for the rights of people that had been held down for generations and because he had the eloquence of voice to convey the needs of the voiceless to people around the world, the work to continue to seek equal rights did not end.  On St. Helena Island, Charleston, and Johns Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.gullahgeecheenation.com) there continued to be marches planned and people continued to carry the baton in a race for civil rights.  Unfortunately, many never evolved to the point of fully comprehending human rights because this phase of movement was arrested when Dr. King took his last breath.  So, when the Gullah/Geechee Nation was declared at Sullivan’s Island, SC in Charleston County and was being led by a native of St. Helena Island, SC (Marquetta L. Goodwine who was then enstooled “Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation“) many tried to define what was happening in various ways instead of being an active part of the next phase of a movement that Dr. King and El Hajj Malik El Shabazz had cleared the way for.  The pathway to human rights had been paved with their blood and sweat and the tears of many as they laid down their lives to help people become determined to fully be free by participating in demanding their rights and being proud of their culture as they built up their communities.

The greatest testimony to self-determination is the economic and cultural empowerment of the Gullah/Geechee people of the Sea Islands that are proudly still holding on to their land, their community, and their culture as they build a better future for their children’s children.  It appears that there are many that were truly inspired by these words of Dr. King concerning self-love and self-determination:

May these that have been inspired insure that Dr. King’s living was not in vain.  May we walk together in the human rights movement of self-determination and “Build baby build!”


Annually Penn Center, Inc. (www.penncenter.com) on St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation host the “Community Sing” in honor of Dr. King’s legacy on the Sunday prior to Dr. King Day at 6:30 pm.


  1. Thank you for sharing!


  1. Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. | Palmetto Author
  2. Welcome Center Dedication at Penn Center, Inc. on Historic St. Helena Island, SC | Gullah/Geechee Nation
  3. Gullah/Geechee Ancestral Tears | Gullah/Geechee Nation
  4. Gullah/Geechee Gwines On Fa 2018 | Gullah/Geechee Nation
  5. From Penn School to Penitentiary-The Attempted Imprisoning of a Gullah/Geechee Community | Gullah/Geechee Nation
  6. Gullah/Geechee Heirs Property and the USDA | Gullah/Geechee Nation

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: