The first time that I met Ms. Dolly Nash, the great granddaughter of Gullah Statesman Robert Smalls, I had no idea the many years that we would stand together telling ourstory. However, I do remember when she called me and asked me to come to the Robert Smalls’ house for the family reunion to present to the family the Gullah/Geechee history of Beaufort, SC which her great grandpa had written so many pages of simply by living to stand for our freedom as he did.
For years and years to come, Ms. Dolly would come to Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalitionevents and to festivals and other presentations where I would be presenting. She would commend me and teach me during our conversations. Her energy was always embracing-embracing me and embracing our historical legacy.
I could again feel Ms. Dolly’s embrace in all of its sincerity when I went to the Robert Smalls Weekend in Charleston to be a part of witnessing this historic moment in which he would FINALLY get the historical marker that he deserved along the harbor where he toiled and also where he liberated himself from by taking “The Planter” from the Confederate waters during the US Civil War and piloting the vessel to Beaufort County which was his birthplace. He then turned it over to the Union and was able to return home to his family.
The story of his journey home was told to me many times. As a result of this, I feel like I can see him whenever I look out across the Beaufort River. I KNOW why our Gullah/Geechee ancestors elected him to represent them in the Reconstruction Congress! Yes, they believed in his abilities and that he would truly serve his community.
I knew that that weekend stood as a testimony to how Ms. Dolly and others in the Robert Smalls Family had served our community by continuing to keep the legacy of Robert Smalls alive by speaking his name and teaching his story. So, I wanted to be there to support the honoring that was rightfully due and to stand with the family again as well.
As I prepared to shoot the proceedings for Gullah/Geechee TV, I recognized a gentleman who also immediately recognized me. It was Michael Moore who is the great great grandson of Robert Smalls! We smiled and embraced and I could just feel Ms. Dolly there with us smiling!
Michael Moore, great great grandson of Gullah Statesman Robert Smalls and Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and International African American Museum Founding Board Member stand united in Charleston, SC.
A few minutes later, Brother Moore reintroduced his children to me and he reminded them that I was the person that had been at the house and spoken to them in Gullah many years before. I smiled again because in that moment I knew that he not only recognized me, he truly REMEMBERED me! That was a blessing!
We sat near the Septima P. Clark fountain in Liberty Square. I had been here for the unveiling of the gate that had been created by Phillip Simmons and of the fountain and looked forward to hearing the words spoken as the new manuscript about Robert Smalls was unveiled that day and a marker soon would be as well. As we chatted in this place and space of remembering, I felt at peace.
I have walked along this area and sat along the harbor numerous times especially over the decade that we have held the “Gullah/Geechee Nation International Music & Movement Festival™”a short walk away at the Charleston Maritime Center. The center and the plot where the International African American Museum (IAAM) will go are just down the harbor from where we were standing recalling our past connection. I had no idea that the day would come when we would not just look into the past, but also look to the future together. However, that time has now come given that Brother Michael Moore is now the first president and CEO of IAAM which I have served on the steering committee, founding board, and speakers bureau for.
The first thing that Brother Moore did was to speak on the importance of the location where we host our Gullah/Geechee Nation International Music & Movement Festival™every even numbered year-Gadsden’s Wharf. This place of disembarkation after being brought from Sullivan’s Island to the peninsula of Charles Town was where thousands of Africans arrived during the TransAtlantic Slave Trade and were subsequently placed on auction blocks to be sold.
Brother Moore’s words truly capture the essence of why many of us have supported the building of IAAM along this harbor in Charleston all of these years. He stated, “History is a really really powerful thing. It serves to frame a people. It helps to identify who they are. It helps to even position where they are going.” As we would say to that, “Ef hunnuh ain kno whey hunnuh dey frum, hunnuh ain gwine no whey hunnuh da gwine.” We are sure that IAAM will frame the stories that folks had long attempted to bury beneath the cobble stones and place them where they can be clearly seen so that they can help to position us all go go in a better direction together.
It is truly interesting the direction that I and the Smalls Family have been going together for decades. It is powerful to have Robert Smalls’ descendant stand in a place over 150 years after Reconstruction and plan for the construction of the International African American Museum (IAAM). IAAMis expected to open in 2018 which will be 150 years after Robert Smalls was a member of the South Carolina Constitutional Convention and was elected to the state house of representatives.
It appears that Robert Smalls’ spirit is still at work in the SC legislator given that the general assembly has agreed to provide $25 million of the $75 million that we are raising to complete IAAM. They have already given $10 million and the City and County of Charleston have already agreed to contribute $25 million. The new president and CEO of IAAM is now tasked to raise the remaining third of the overall budget. He definitely has my continued support in assisting with this fundraising effort which we have had underway for several years now. Thus far, private donations have come to $3 million. So, in order to keep this project as smoothly sailing as Captain Robert Smalls did with “The Planter,” I would call on everyone to contribute to this long needed space that will honor the journey of our many African and Gullah/Geechee ancestors and will celebrate the legacy of all that they contributed not only to Charleston, but to the world. To make a donation, simply go to www.iaamuseum.org.
I look forward to you standing with us in this sacred space and embracing the historical legacy along this shore just as I AM!