Amidst these electronic ways that people are able to engage in the commemorations, there are a series of events that will take place on historic St. Helena Island, SC that will allow people to directly engage with the Gullah/Geechee community in celebrations of the continuation of their cultural traditions, organizations, and institutions. One such annual event is the “Lands End Woodland Club River Festival” that takes place on the Lands End Woodland’s Club property.
In the 1920’s Gullah/Geechee native of St. Helena Island Dennis Freeman of Tombee gathered several families together to jointly purchase 328 acres of land which had been the Riverside Plantation. “The Baker Place” that they purchased became a place for Gullah/Geechee families in Land’s End to fish, hunt, gather firewood, and have a graveyard. They wanted to hold on to the property for future their descendants. This evolved into an organization called the “Woodland Club” which continues to hold this annual social event as a means of raising funds for the taxes on the land which became known around the world when Ted Turner obtained the adjacent land and there was a land boundary dispute which got settle out of court with the assistance of many in the community.
To insure that they had a firm basis from which to operate in order to continue to protect the land ownership, the “Lands End Woodland Club” was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1996 with the mission to conserve and utilize the property as intended by the founders. The event that is held on the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day weekend from 11 am to 7 pm is an opportunity for many people that attend to enjoy a day on the river and to engage with the descendants.
One of the institutions that has played a role in assisting with the retention of the Lands End Woodland Club property and which once had a land use fund that was greatly supported by the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition is Penn Center, Inc. Currently, Penn Center, Inc.is in a position not unlike many institutions and non-profits that are operated by people of African descent in America-they needed funding and support! In order to garner major support each year, the “Heritage Days Celebration”is held in November at Penn Center National Landmark Historic District in the heart of St. Helena Island. It is also a homecoming for the Gullah/Geechees from the island and in 33 years has become one of the largest gatherings in the southeast.
For the third year in a row, the Heritage Days Celebration is being co-chaired by Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com) and career educator, Dr. Valerie Jackson. These women have an outstanding team of native Gullah/Geechees that have diligently planned not only the “Heritage Days Celebration” which will take place November 12-14, 2015, but they held a wonderful “All White Affair” in celebration of “Black Music Month” and will host the “Blue Jeans Ball” on Saturday, September 5, 2015 at Penn Center’s Darrah Hall. This down home dress to impress party is for adults 30 years and over and will be an evening of Gullah/Geechee food, dancing, and fun. The DJ for the evening is Kwame Sha of All Mobile Productions™. So, folks can leave from the “Lands End Woodlands River Festival” and come up the road to Darrah Hall where the doors will open at 5 pm with a Gullah/Geechee fish fry gwine on!
As always, the St. Helena Gullah/Geechee community invites everyone to praise and worship at the numerous churches that are on the island on Sunday morning. Many of these churches are located on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. These include Bethesda Christian Center where the “Traditional Praise Service” is held on the opening evening of the annual Heritage Days Celebration each November; Ebenezer Baptist Church which was founded in 1884 during the Reconstruction Era which the Gullah/Geechee Nation is commemorating given that this year marks 150 years since it that era began; Brick Baptist Church which was founded in 1833 and is a part of the Penn Center National Landmark Historic District and is the site of where a powerful speech was issued during the Reconstruction period urging the independence of people of African descent which included landownership; Faith Memorial Baptist Church which grew out of Brick Baptist Church and where the late Pastor Horace Williams continued to hold classes on financial management and land ownership; and Adams Street Baptist Church which is the youngest of all the churches along this main thoroughfare that takes you to where the land of St. Helena actually does end.
Fortunately, the land ending does not end the spirit and the power of the Gullah/Geechees. They continue to come together to recall the journey of their ancestors and all that their ancestors and elders fought for and left them with. One such on-going celebration is the Labor Day Celebration that used to take place on “The Green” which has been renamed the “Dr. Martin Luther King Park.” This celebration now takes place on the campus of Penn Center, Inc. and is hosted by the Penn Club to once again raise funds for Penn Center, Inc.and to continue the process of education that began there in 1862. Numerous Gullah/Geechee vendors are at the event which allows visitors to be able to learn about the cultural traditions from people that live it and allows people to have the opportunity to purchase items including books, CDs, and DVDs to take home with them and share with others.
Labor Day Weekend will begin the journey and the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition will have it continue with a special “Gullah/Geechee Po’ch Talk” by Queen Quet at the St. Helena Branch Library with interactive activities on Saturday, September 12, 2013.
All of these events will truly be an opportunity for people from throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation, across the country, and around the world to participate in the “International Decade of People of African Descent” since Gullah/Geechees are the cornerstone to the building of the African family in America. They continue to hold on to the traditions, the land, and the legacy of their African ancestors that were placed on the Sea Islands for enslavement, but who then developed their own nation by working together.
“De wata bring we and de wata gwine tek we bak” hunnuh kin yeddi plenee een de Gullah/Geechee Nation. Truly the waters of St. Helena Island are filled with the sounds of ancestral drums calling folks to the island for celebration in September!