As I walked into the field that still bears the tracks of my great grandmother and all of her children’s children that she led into it and taught them self-sufficiency while not having that terminology (Aaah, no doubt da crak e teet an sey-Do fa hunnuh sef!), I felt the energy of others walking row by row with me. As my knife cut the first cabbage and I looked at it, it looked like a beautiful flower that could be held in a bouquet. I paused to admire the royal purple here as I often do when I adorn myself in this regal color for official business of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. I smiled as my mind’s eye showed me my entire court of proud freedom fighting Gullah/Geechee ooman gwine fawad wid me adorned accordingly. I could see Elder Carlie Towne, Elder Lesa Wineglass-Smalls, Elder Ernestine Tobias Felder, Representative Anita Collins, Representative Glenda Simmons-Jenkins and I entering meetings and marching in streets epitomizing “Wok togedda chillun don cha git weary” and “Don Tun Bak” as we pressed on for the human rights of Gullah/Geechee citizens.
As I reached down to cut the next cabbage, i looked ahead of me to see the rows and rows of greens that I needed to harvest so that I can prepare for the new planting season and GOD said to me, “Think about that.” I paused. As I cut the next cabbage, I saw the misinformation and the COINTELPRO propaganda evolved into YouTube, TikTok and Zoom videos distributed by youths that have never lived Gullah/Geechee traditions that are turning words from books and notes from Gullah/Geechee events into mimicry and minstrelcy to get views, likes and money from their peers that won’t take the time to verify the details of the information nor seek the original sources since these people exploit the information and do not provide citations. The viral nature of their cancel culture and clowning has injured the hearts of those that know what Gullah/Geechees need to truly spend energy on-fighting for land, water and human rights. I cut again and saw the knife in both ways-one that can kill or one that is a tool. GOD spoke again and said, “Yes. Think about it.”
I walked in meditation through the rest of the field harvesting and each time I reached down, I felt like my hands were held. I realized that my ancestors were holding my hands once again as they have done all of my life. They’ve led my hands in the direction that allowed me to learn how to use the knife as the tool that would assist me with the harvest. I saw myself now holding the hands of those younger native Gullah/Geechees who want to be guided, who want to learn in the traditional way that we always have via oral traditions and practice passed down by elders who lived these traditions. As I meditated, I worked. I realized that my bags were both full quickly and that the field still had more greens to be harvested but the wind was blowing so strongly that I needed to take these into the house and plan to continue the harvest another day. I prayed for another day to continue this meditation and the dedication on this land and for generations after me to do the same as my foremothers had done before me. I prayed and gave thanks for the harvest of not only the vegetables, but also of the knowledge, wisdom, understanding and respect.
As I approached my gate (that only exist because I have to keep the deers from harvesting out all the crops these days), I thought about the women that I have been honored to walk with. Faces rapidly passed through my mind and then that of Dr. Betty Shabazz came into focus as I got to the gate. I thought about how we never got to walk together here on the Sea Islands because I only learned that she had property here on the day that I met her. At that moment in time, I had no idea that we would never speak again. I was the final person that she ever interviewed for her radio program on WBLS Radio in New York City. I completed that interview, went and got my hair done and hit the road to head home to St. Helena Island. I told my mother about meeting Dr. Shabazz and the conversation we had off the air when I arrived. So, it was to my shock when my mother said to come see what they were saying on the news. When I did, they were speaking of a tragedy that Dr. Shabazz never recovered from. I sat down on the couch like I did across from her in the studio and just stared at the screen in dismay.
Over the years, I’ve reflected on how I recall my final conversations with several iconic people that talked to me as I began leading the movement to have Gullah/Geechee spoken of and written of together and spoken of and written of as not somebody’s slaves, but of people of self-sufficiency and self-determination. Over four decades later, I refuse to be part of a tragedy that I and the Gullah/Geechee Nation won’t recover from. I refuse to let people reduce and dissect us back into “Geechee” one place and “Gullah” another or “Gullah” a space and then the word “Geechee” which indicates that they want to open up that space so that they can seed disunity. As I closed the fence and walk on with the sacks of harvest weighing down both arms, I heard Bob Marley singing “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?” I also know that as he said, they always seek to “kill it before it grows.” So, I gave thanks once again for the Gullah/Geechee seeds that have had the strength to thrive and not die. I give thanks for the coming harvest that will do our elders and ancestors proud. I pray that the steps that I walk and the seeds that I plant do my ancestors and elders proud.
I make my way onto the porch and call for my mother, she comes out and sees the harvest and she says, “WOW!” After she pauses in the rocking chair, she says “What you wanna do?” I said, “Put this away for the folks that are coming.” She said, “Get the cutting board and hand me a knife.” We both said in unison the type of knife that I was heading to get. I got the board for her and a box for me and I watched her prep the first two cabbages and I then did accordingly as we talked about what remained to be harvested. She didn’t want me to go back out there on the stormy windy day and I quickly let her know that I have good sense and wasn’t about to be like Dorothy in the Wiz and get lifted and blown away! We laughed as we stripped off the leaves that weren’t perfectly purple. We used those for composting. I thought about how everything has its use. I also saw that we had very few of those leaves and I gave thanks for not just an abundant harvest, but a blessed one. I thought of how the greens are filled with nutrients that strengthen and heal and I thought of how the land is still viable after generations and generations of my family being fed from it. Just then, my mother started saying how should couldn’t grow certain crops there years ago when she first started planting that same area and how she had to work to build up that field. I listened as I we worked and I prayed to continue to make the land richer so that the next generation will be able to sustain themselves from it. I also thought of how when I started an entire field now called “Gullah/Geechee” how I was the only one in the field while others were toiling elsewhere under different names and now there is more growing up because souls as well as soil has been enriched even by some things that we had to compost to get the Gullah/Geechee self-determination movement to grow to this point.
As I walked to the next building to wash the and bag the cabbages, I felt like the ancestors were walking with me once again. I thought back to how I started this month doing my weekly broadcast on “Gullah/Geechee Riddim Radio” entitled “Fa Ma Dem een de Gullah/Geechee Nation.”
I thought of the women that are now honored as the mothers of not just their own children, but of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. I thought about how I only got to meet Mama Sepi-Gullah/Geechee Sacred Ancestor Septima Poinsett Clark-through the people that knew her and worked with her or learned from her.
I thought of the folks that I did meet and talk with that were the freedom fighters during the time that she was engaged in the Civil Rights Movement such as Mary Moultrie who I met when we both were presented with the inaugural Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Living Legacy Award and who I stood by as they unveiled the marker for the Charleston Hospital Workers Strike.
I was as proud in those moments as I was to receive the inaugural MaVynee Betsch Environmental Award and the Black Herstory Award. The latter had been previously presented to “The Beach Lady MaVynee Betsch” and the former was named for her when she became a Gullah/Geechee Sacred Ancestor.
The Beach Lady and I fought side by side for the our land on the coast from Florida where she was to the Carolinas. We sang, laughed and danced. As we pour libation for her and the other Gullah/Geechee female freedom fighters that are now ancestors, we shout.
We shout in another way than the leaders such as Dr. Millicent Brown and the other women of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) have had to shout over the years. I give thanks for them and the many other Gullah/Geechee women that used their voices to speak up loudly for our rights when others tried to silence them.
Every Women’s Herstory Month / Black Women’s Herstory Month, I reflect on the blessed harvest of knowledge that GOD has allowed me to cultivate by not simply reading about or watching videos of these powerfilled Gullah/Geechee female freedom fighters. I give thanks for the abundant harvest that has been part of my life because they each saw fit to plant seeds of knowledge into my mind and soul. They showed me tools to use at the right time to cut out things that would not be beneficial nor uplifting to me or to the movement for the rights of women, Black people and especially those that are Gullah/Geechee. They knew how and when to cut just as my mother does and all her mothers before her did. I am thankful that they placed the knife in my hands in the field.
At the end of the morning, I walked back across the land proudly toting my harvest to the freezer to store it up for those that are coming. I pray that my work and words will be stored up in the hearts and minds of those that truly seek to work together to insure that Gullah/Geechee culture continues to exist in the future in an authentic manner on this land throughout the Gullah/Geechee Nation. May righteousness cut out that which is not enhancing and assisting with our human right to self-determination and our continuing legacy of self-sufficiency. We hona mama dem een de Gullah/Geechee Nation wid wha we do tru we hand and we haat. Tenk GAWD fa dem wha keep e haat and mind stayed pun freedum! May the seeds of Gullah/Geechee freedom continue to grow! I am ready for the next planting season!