“Unjust don’t prosper!” I have heard from numerous Gullah/Geechee elders throughout my life’s journey. Yet, as I have heard many preachers say, “It may look like it sometimes…” However, as the Gullah/Geechee proverb makes clear, “Ebeedee de bucket gwine ta de well. One day de bottom hafa drop out!” So, no matter how solid something may look, at some point, it can fall apart.
When one stands outside of the realm of justice, it may look like solid ground on which you stand, but when you step further into the mire, you find that you are on sinking sand and there is no bottom to hold you up. I have been sitting for the past few months waiting for folks to get to the bottom on the issues of injustice that have taken place in Charleston and North Charleston, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. The more that they uncover or the deeper they step into the discovery and uncovering, the more mired in injustice and pain they become.
Charleston, SC is not new to being a place where injustice tends to appear as if it will reign on and on given that Charles Town which is now the City of Charleston National Landmark Historic District was where the greatest crime against humanity-the TransAtlantic Slave Trade-made an undeniable mark on the thoughts toward and treatment of people from Africa. These marks are reminiscent of the whip marks that were left in many backs of our Gullah/Geechee ancestors that stood and fought back against this injustice and those that stood for freedom. So, on both sides in Charleston and throughout the United States, you find collective consciousness that brings forth the memories and the behaviors of those attempting to oppress and enslave and those that stand and fight for freedom.
From Gullah Jack and Denmark Vesey to Clementa Pinckney, we have had Gullah/Geechee men stand for freedom and justice in the face of terroristic attacks against them, their community, and their culture. The outcome of their stand to protect the human rights of our people was their deaths.
When Senator Clementa Pinckney was assassinated along with eight other Gullah/Geechees in Emanual AME Church in Charleston, SC, the Gullah/Geechee collective conscious caused us to recall the brutalizing that was experienced by Gullah Jack, Denmark Vesey and other Gullah/Geechees that were the founding congregation that led to the building of Mother Emanuel. They were dragged out and beaten in the street for gathering together and the church had even been burned in an attempt to disburse the members and scatter them not unlike the African Diaspora caused by the TransAtlantic Slave Trade had already done.
The marks on the backs of Gullah/Geechee being thrown to the ground and kicked in the backs and whipped across their shoulders came to mind. I could see some running to try to get away from this brutality while they yet called out to GOD for protection. I could see them running from the injustice of this moment brought upon them simply because someone else did not want them to speak up. Someone else didn’t think their lives were worth enough for them to have the freedom to praise, worship, to gather, to speak, or to live. So, they were brutalized and slaughtered in the street. Denmark Vesey and Gullah Jack were hung in the street. The collective consciousness brings this image vividly to mind just as vividly as folks tied to the whipping tree in the middle of Charleston comes to mind and I can see and feel the pain as African folks are struck in the back.
This pain became visual with the physical eye when I watched online and on TV the repeated replay of Brother Walter Scott being shot in the back and as I watched his dead body lay on its back as a cop dug through his pockets. I keep thinking that these hands in these pockets was a final act of taking away even what little was left now that the life was gone from this vessel that had been know to his family and his community as Walter Scott. I shook my head and wondered why this unjust situation had to be played over and over again. Then I prayed that it would leave an undeniable mark in the minds of people that were watching and that it would wake people and that this brother’s living and dying would NOT be in vain. Instead, maybe this was finally the moment when the bucket that the unjust had carried to the well of hatred over and over again for generation after generation would finally drop out!
I yet wait to hear the verdict.
As I wait to hear the verdict, I also am reminded that Gullah/Geechees of consciousness realize that you cannot go to an unjust law for justice. This is why our community governed itself until many assimilated and also wanted to cross over into other communities believing that if they integrated into the system that had been designed by those that had enslaved their ancestors, somehow they would be treated differently than their ancestors had been. Somehow, they convinced themselves to believe that there was something that we had “overcome” and that these racially motivated and culturally directed human rights violations were not really that and that some things were what the mainstream media called them-“isolated incidents.”
The “isolated incident” that had worked to our benefit was that of placing African people together on Sea Islands away from the other folks that sought to brutalize, rape, sell, and kill them during chattel enslavement. That “isolated incident” caused there to be sufficient time, ground, and opportunity to allow a culture of strength that is deeply rooted to grow. That “isolated incident” is from which wisdom came that cause generations of Gullah/Geechees to realize that “unjust don’t prosper” therefore, you should do as the Gullah/Geechee spiritual says and “treat everybody right!”
In order to treat someone right, you must first believe that you are dealing with a person that is someone. During chattel enslavement, Africans were considered 3/5 of a human being (No one has every explained to me as a mathematician what the other 2/5 were though.). Not only was this a thought, this is the LAW! What then can one obtain by going to those that would make such a Constitutional Law the law of the land? Can you truly believe that these folks are reasonable and just?
I had these thoughts all float through my mind as I watched images on a flatscreen TV and heard news reports of Walter Scott’s murder and then not long later I heard of the assassination of the Emanuel Nine. I lost track of time because it started to feel like these two incidents had happened within only days of each other. They definitely had happened within only miles of each other. They had happened within the landscape of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and all I could keep seeing in my mind was blood falling and joining that of our ancestors that had been unjustly beaten and unjustly killed along this coast. I sought recollections of just outcomes or retribution for their murders and I couldn’t find any. I thought of a Gullah/Geechee man that was shot because an Anglo man’s dog had run out in front of the Gullah/Geechee man’s car on Johns Island and gotten hit and died and the Anglo man felt it was just to then shoot and kill the man as the man emerged from his car to check on the dog. This was the kind of mindset that some have had toward my people over the years that I could previously have said was “in the past,” but here were these incidents-that were not isolated-in the present! Gullah/Geechee blood was spilling in the streets in Charleston and North Charleston and the people are awaiting justice.
Between these two brutal shooting incidents, I had been contacted by the United States Department of Justice Diversity Committee. They wanted to meet me and they wanted me to come and present to their employees about Gullah/Geechee culture. When my Gullah/Geechee family was murdered in Emanuel AME, I knew I had to take this journey to justice. I had to do whatever GOD would place before me to do that would enlighten these folks that are charged to bring justice to situations. I needed them to know that the people that had died were Gullah/Geechee and that these were not “isolated incidents,” but violations of the human rights of an internationally recognized linguistic, ethnic, and national minority. I also had to make it clear that we were not going to simply sit back and allow the bucket of injustice to keep going to a well that was now being filled with our blood. That bottom needed to drop out and drop out permanently!
My arrival at the United States Department of Justice National Advocacy Center was a memorable moment. I was greeted by security as soon as my vehicle pulled up to the curb. I was met outside the building on the steps by my hosts for the day. I walked in the doors to see a huge image of myself and as I walked through the center, everyone spoke and smiled. (I said to my folks, “I am sure that EVERYONE realizes who I am because they couldn’t get in to work without seeing my face, huh?”) There was a warmth in this place and space that was being afforded to me and I wanted to have this warmth and respect to follow me out of these “halls of justice” to the well of my community and spill out on everyone there.
I had the opportunity to enter into several dialogues concerning the cases that we all had been recently dealing with in Charleston and North Charleston. I also spent time not only presenting the basics of Gullah/Geechee ourstory, but then entered a dialogue with the employees concerning what is and is not Gullah/Geechee culture. At the end of the day, I truly left feeling as if I had allies in justice. I realized that these folks had gone into the legal field in order to truly seek to do things that will have positive outcomes for all people. At their hearts, they wanted to insure that laws stood that would bring about equality. I know that this only comes when ALL people begin to work toward this. So, I was glad to have an opportunity for them to know that they can call on me and for me to know that I can call on them.
My journey to justice for Gullah/Geechee people continues. It definitely did not end due to these dialogues or this presentation since the reason that a department of justice exist is because there are still unjust people and dealings in the world. The reason I still go to the United Nations to fight for human rights is because unjust practices still exist in the world. Just as I prayed for Emanuel Nine and for Walter Scott, I pray that my living is not in vain. I pray that I can live to see the day that justice is served and that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is lived by all. Until that time, I work toward it by taking a bucket of TRUTH with me to pour out wherever I go.
As the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Just like Malcolm X, “I am for truth, no matter who tells it. I am for justice, no matter who is for or against it.” Malcolm X made it clear that “Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice, if you are a man [or woman], you go out and take it!” Malcolm no doubt had been privy to knowing that he was reiterating words that the Great Orator Frederick Douglass had spoken decades before:
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, where one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
It is for this reason, that I continue to go on the tedious journey to justice. I know that Dr. Martin Luther King was correct in his assessment that “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals.” To that end, I am passionately dedicated continuing to seek justice and will exert the power that GOD has placed within me and in my hands to continue the journey to justice and on this journey I will continue to sing the song that the Reverend James Cleveland left me and many others for inspiration, “I don’t feel no ways tired!” The journey may take a while, but it is worthy journey to take because:
“Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.”
• Psalm 106:3
Queen Quet is the Chieftess and Head-of-State for the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.QueenQuet.com). She is the elected official spokesperson for Gullah/Geechees worldwide. She continues to represent her people in various arenas and to negotiate just treatment on their behalf.
Tune in to the Gullah/Geechee TV (GGTV) episode that features part of her presentation at the United States Department of Justice: