On April 1, 1999, Marquetta L. Goodwine whose roots stem from St. Helena, Polowana, and Dataw Islands in Beaufort County, SC sat down before the world in Genéva, Switzerland. She became the first Gullah/Geechee to speak before the United Nations Human Rights Commission. She had no idea that when the clock on the wall stopped at zero that a clock that would be ticking to alter the trajectory of her life would begin running. She has been running in syncopation with it ever since.
From 1999 to 2000, Carlie Towne of the Carlie Towne Gullah Geechee People Foundation, who is a native of the Union Heights area of Charleston County, SC, and the Director of the Gullah/Geechee Angel Network, worked under the guidance of the International Human Rights Association for American Minorities (IHRAAM) to lead native Gullah/Geechees in standing up for their right to self-determination. At that time, the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition which Goodwine founded and the GGPF which Towne had founded were the only two organizations that existed in the world with the words “Gullah/Geechee” in the name. The Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition was the first in the world to exist and to begin focusing on protecting the land ownership and rights of the people when it started its work in 1996. The uniting of these two organizations-one national and one local-turned out to have the strength of sewing palmetto through sweetgrass. They were then able to help hold up Gullah/Geechee culture and human rights together. As the Gullah/Geechee proverb says, “Empty sak caan stan upright lone.”
A petition was created by the Gullah Geechee People Foundation, entitled “Who Speak fa We.” It was placed online for voting and delivered in person to numerous Gullah/Geechee businesses, events, and institutions so that native Gullah/Geechees locally and those that were around the world could vote fa a “head pun de bodee of de Gullah/Geechee.” The person that they had vetted and sought to elect as their first official spokesperson and head-of-state was Marquetta L. Goodwine.
Goodwine was chosen due to the successful work that she had done with assisting families with fundraising and court cases to save their land and with petition and letter writing campaigns to help save land and change laws so that they would benefit native Gullah/Geechees and not continue to increase their displacement. She had become known as a person “speaking truth to power” to stand up to who she coined “destructioneers” that were bringing “destructionment” to the Sea Islands and the coast of the Lowcountry. She had already taken the case to Congressman James E. Clyburn who also wanted to save Black owned land on the coast that had launched his political career. They started working together to get the United States National Park Service (NPS) to begin what became the “Lowcountry Special Resource Study of Gullah Culture.” The outcome of their nine year collaboration culminated in the United States Congress voting in support of the “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act.” This now embossed “Gullah/Geechee” as united words (with no spaces and minus signs between them) into the federal record of the United States and set a precedent for the world.
The native Gullah/Geechees were to set their own global precedent prior to US President George W. Bush signing the “Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act” into US law. The “Who Speak fa We” election was confirmed in an enstoolment ceremony at Sullivan’s Island, SC in Charleston County on July 2, 2000. A year had been spent under United Nations observation to insure that the voting process was one that native Gullah/Geechees were participating in on their own without being forced or paid off to vote. The world was invited to United States federal property to insure that there was a public acknowledgement of this vote and that the United States government was fully aware that the Gullah/Geechee people were standing up for their human right to self-determination and that they had chosen “internal self-determination” which now afforded them their rights within the United States and in their own nation.
• Queen Quet’s testimony before the United States Congress:
Queen Quet’s testimony before the South Carolina General Assembly:
Queen Quet’s stand at the Climate Moment Rally:
Queen Quet’s intervention at the US Department of Agriculture on behalf of Gullah/Geechee heirs property owners:
Queen Quet’s presentation regarding the Gullah/Geechee Nation’s progress with their Ocean Action Plan at a United Nations meeting in Korea:
Queen Quet’s presentations regarding “Climate Heritage Mobilization”during the United Nations COP 25 event in Madrid, Spain:
The Gullah/Geechee Nation’s leaders are hosting a series of activities called “#GullahGeechee2020: Seeing Gullah/Geechee Culcha Clearly” throughout the year. The public is invited to come out and celebrate with native Gullah/Geechees all year. The events are listed at www.GullahGeecheeNation.com and people can follow this site in order to receive updates on additional things that are added throughout the year and to learn how they can support the work that is going on to continue to keep Gullah/Geechee cultural heritage alive on the land of the Gullah/Geechee Nation in the face of continued destructionment, displacement, genocidal plans, hurricanes, sea level rise and other effects of climate change. Numerous news outlets have reported on these challenges and what the Gullah/Geechee Nation is doing to combat them:
Queen Quet, who is in her third term, works tirelessly for her people each and every day. Her community is acknowledging this work by opening 2020 with the MLK Observance Committee of Bluffton and Hilton Head honoring her with a “Black Excellence Award.” She is truly appreciative of this honor in her own land and finds it even more significant due to the fact that she will receive this along with inaugural Gullah/Geechee Nation Wisdom Circle Council of Elders Member, Dr. Amir Jamal Toure whose roots stem from Hilton Head Island, SC and Savannah, GA.