Words from a Gullah/Geechee Living Legend on A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture

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

Carter_G_Woodson_portraitWhen he founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915, [now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) “Carter G. Woodson labored under the belief that historical truth would crush falsehoods and usher in a new era of equality, opportunity, and racial democracy, and it has been its charge for a century. In honor of this milestone, ASALH has selected ‘A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture‘ as the 2015 National Black History theme.”   These words from ASALH’s website resonated with my soul on many levels and for many different conflicting reasons.   I have been on earth long enough to have celebrated “Negro History Week,” “Black History Week,” and “Black History Month.”   I continue to celebrate the latter and to educate others about the importance of this as a continuing tradition of people of African descent not only in America and the Gullah/Geechee Nation, but also in England (although celebrations that I have attended in the UK tend to resemble multicultural celebrations and do not follow the intent of why the event was founded for the most part).  However, when I truly examine that which Dr. Woodson “labored under,” I cannot celebrate the fact that we are still laboring to crush falsehoods and to bring about equality, opportunity, and racial democracy.  “Truth” is left up to “interpretation” and so many people are distracted, that there seem to be less and less people challenging the eurocentric interpreters as Dr. Woodson and the members of ASALH have been doing for 100 years.

My increased interest in insuring that every school that I spoke in would learn the history behind the founding of “Black History Month” as a part of the celebrations in February came when I was selected by ASALH to be one of the first to receive the “Living Legacy Award.”  I was already enstooled as a queen, but this honor seemed to be a knighting ceremony done by the spirit of Dr. Woodson himself to insure that I knew I was on the right track and that I was now to continue to forge on in this battle to protect how the stories of Black life, history or ourstory, and culture are told.   I felt obligated to continue to honor the ancestor that had the vision to insure that his people would not perish for lack of knowledge.  Dr. Woodson took the time to address the missing pages of his story and to begin the Journal of Negro History to tell ourstory.

I remember the day that I came upon the bound copies of the Journal of Negro History that we now hold in the Gullah/Geechee Alkebulan Archive which is the ONLY archive in the world totally dedicated to Gullah/Geechee history, heritage, and culture and I opened the pages and felt like I had opened a treasure chest!  Here was a wealth of knowledge on every page.  These were the pages that I was unaware of when I started reading at three years old and entered into a family, schools, and a community that not only celebrated Negro History Week, but also ourstory as Gullah/Geechees all year long.  We didn’t need to stage anything or have sound systems and high tech set ups to celebrate who we were.  We didn’t even need the printing press that ASALH had to tell the story.   We had the front porch with the community elders that told us who we were and where we came from and planted a seed in our souls-“Ef hunnuh ain kno whey hunnuh dey frum, hunnuh ain gwine kno whey hunnuh gwine.”  

Dr. Carter G. Woodson knew this and he had his way of telling it and he insured that he got others to join him in telling the world not only where we came from, but what we had given to the world-science, languages, arts, cultural traditions, etc.  He knew that if people of African descent in America knew of the rich historical legacy that they had created not only in North America, but around the world and from ancient times through chattel enslavement and that they were even in the midst of those that were writing history through their lives at that moment, they would continue to increase the wealth of the Black community.  As he stated “In fact, the confidence of the people is worth more than money.”   I agree wholeheartedly and see my Gullah/Geechee people as a great investment that has perpetual returns as I see their heads held higher and higher in the celebration of not just Black history, but of who webe cuz den dun yeddi and read ourstory!

When I think back to 1915, I think of the fact that Gullah/Geechees owned land and had established family compounds, places of praise, educational institutions, and community empowerment societies and civic organizations.  They had continued their cultural traditions which included being self-sufficient and independent.  100 years later, I have the honor of being the elected vessel to tell their story and to commune with their spirits on Sea Island sand where we continue to live ourstory and our traditions and are a living cultural community that had not only been mentioned in the treasure chests of some of the pages of the Journal of Negro History, but had come to life as the words came off the pages in the voices of the students that visit our archive and read out loud paragraphs to ask me are they really in the place that these things that they are reading about took place and can I tell them more about it.  I would do a disservice to Dr. Woodson and my Gullah/Geechee ancestors if I didn’t open my mouth and share what I knew of the story then and make the students aware of how the work that they will do will also someday be a part of history.  I want them to think of whether or not what their works and lives would be noteworthy or something that they prayed no one had taken note of.

I am thankful that Dr. Woodson took note of what was missing from the pages.  I am thankful that ASALH took note of the rich Gullah/Geechee legacy that is still being lived.  I am thankful to GOD for vision and for part of that vision including continuing to have a chest in which the treasure of Black Gullah/Geechee life, history, and culture is protected and shared at the Gullah/Geechee Alkebulan Archive.  I pray that the world continues to celebrate Black and Gullah/Geechee life, history, and culture for centuries to come.  Een de mean time, livin ourstory gwine be wha hunnuh gwine see win hunnuh see me!

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation receives Living Legacy Award from ASALH

Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation receives Living Legacy Award from ASALH

 

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