When I sat amongst the human rights advocates that came together at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland in 1999, I didn’t know that I would stand up to walk with people over decades of time. The response that historic night of April 1st proved that they did do what I had asked-Yeddy We. They heard the plight of my people-the Gullah/Geechee people of the Sea Islands. Many had never heard of our culture nor our community, but they were thankful to hear of us before the human rights violations against us destroyed us and relegated us to footnotes in academic papers and photographs in exhibits and slide shows done by those that had studied us while we died.
The words spoken out loud against the chattel enslavement and the wage enslavement at the plantations in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida were the breath that was needed to put life into the situation. The words that were spoken made people realize that the claims that people of African descent in North America hadn’t retained anything African were not true. The words that were spoken gave voice to a specific group that under international law was a “linguistic and ethnic minority” protected by human rights laws. These words spoke life into what seemed like a dire situation-the genocide of a cultural community.
Now that the world heard these words others joined in with speaking up on our behalf. They petitioned the US government with us. This led to the US Congress finally passing the “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act” which thereby acknowledged us as a “national minority.” The US governmental commission formed by the act would eventually see its mission as “Empowering the Gullah/Geechee people to sustain their culture.”
Self-determination is always about sustaining oneself without the interference and pressure from others. The pressure that my people had endured due to the racism, exploitation, continued attempts of re-enslavement, and inaccurate “interpretations” of our culture still didn’t cease. In fact, the pressure was on now that they realized that we could and would speak up for ourselves whether in English or een we oin’t mudda tongue and ting.
The fact that we now had a global platform on which to speak and from which others actually heard and supported us made the battle to prevent the continued exploitation and genocidal attacks that much more intense. The process of eliminating those of us that would advocate for and defend our human rights has become insidious. People were commissioned and directed to keep the Gullah/Geechee Nation out of the media. Groups were funded to provide entertainment as the representation of Gullah/Geechee culture without discussing land loss or anything that would “make folks feel uncomfortable.” Brochures were printed and tourism videos created to market the culture in a manner that shows the community as only singers, basketmakers, chefs, and storytellers, but not as intellectuals and definitely not as freedom fighters! Disya ain hep um tall tall cuz trut gwine stan win ebeeting es fall.
No matter what scripts were written to orchestrate and direct the narrative of the happy singing descendants of the enslaved not everyone comes to the Gullah/Geechee Nation to see an act. Instead, people of the world started to come to see past what was staged and to support the living traditions and the Gullah/Geechee people. Many support us continuing to hold onto our land, our language, and our cultural heritage. They’ve seen the reporting done by the supporters of our human right to self-determination:
These reports winnowed out the tourism palatable entertainment narrative supported by agents of federal and state governmental bodies that seek to avoid the world knowing of the death threats against human rights leaders and the land displacement issues that prevail along the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s coastline. What was left after the winnowing nourishes and strengthens us as we continue to stand for human rights and freedom in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. This nourishment goes beyond that of the fields of Carolina gold rice that people come to the Sea Islands seeking to see and to the true richness of the region-the Black gold-the Gullah/Geechee traditionalists freedom fighters. WEBE Gullah/Geechee anointed people!
We the people are still rooted in our soil. We are still standing up and speaking out. Tenk GAWD de world still da yeddy we afta disya 19 year human rights journee!