Queen’s Chronicles: Stayed on Freedom-22 Years of Gullah/Geechee Self-Determination
“I woke up dis mawnin wid my mind stayed pun freedum! Hallelujah!”
The arrival of July 2, 2022 marking my 22 years as the Queen, Chieftess and Head pun de Bodee of de Gullah/Geechee Nation was far from uneventful. It’s a wonder that GOD had it that I was on my home island when the day came. I had been traveling north and south of the island to the other blessed Sea Islands including Eagle, Edisto, Jekyll and Amelia over the past few months not only checking on Gullah/Geechee citizens, but also checking on the state of the coastline. The nonstop movement coupled with hours of Zoom meetings per day can take its toll on one’s spirit. Aaaah, but getting out with the family into a shout along the shoreline immediately restores the power and energy as if a generator kicked in just as the lights went out in the house.
The power of Gullah/Geechee unity is rejuvenating while the consistent packaging our culture for the use of tourists vexes the soul and almost boggles the mind. I state “almost” because as a scholar of history, I am well aware that at every stage of Black advancement, there have been those that never wanted freedom because it is isn’t free. Freedom requires constant due diligence, consistency and sacrifice. The cost that this totals for Gullah/Geechee has been over 4 decades of my life which includes 25 years of actually awakening every day to seek out more knowledge about my people, our land and then to invest in protecting them both. The majority of people that I’ve met are seeking to use Gullah/Geechee culture as a means to personally advance and not to seek the ultimate advancement of generations of a collective nation of people. This is due to the fact that many yet remain unhealed from Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome/Disorder and they are assimilated into a western thought pattern which forwards an agenda of individualism and not communalism. The western world seeds competition even thought is is destructive to cultural continuation. American schools teach things such as “survival of the fittess” and “dog eat dog” in spite of the fact that dogs don’t generally eat other dogs. What America is seeing is that dogs will kill other dogs though and once the life is shaken from the one, it is left in a heap only to be buried. This alone should caution native Gullah/Geechees and other indigenous people from taking on the mentality and behavior of those teachings. However, in order to do that, you have to be an independent thinker who is able to unplug from or not to succumb to that indoctrination.
Independent thought is a central aspect to the achievement of freedom. Many people choose not to go that route because they are seeking to be accepted by the masses for being similar to them. However, Gullah/Geechee self-determination has been hard fought for in order to protect that which is not a replica of another. So, why do folks so easily fall for caricatures of our culture?
The investment in staged mimicry and characters created to entertain while Gullah/Geechee land and actual lived traditions are eroded only benefits the pressured melting pot that America keeps boiling with a consistent flavoring of the toxicity of white supremacy. Each time that a group of Black people emerge with fist held high, hair as natural as GOD made it, and voices speaking in language that is not considered “translatable” by the mainstream, there are always some folks that are sent out to capture them and bring them into the pot to boil like crabs. It never ceases to amaze me that the crabs that seek to pull others into the pot with them do not realize that doing that only leads to the death of all in the pot. So, I would rather be that one that breaks off a claw to get out than to boil with the others that are easily duped into believing that a couple dollars laid at the bottom of that pot or barrel is more valuable than being able to freely walk the shoreline and wade into the healing waters to be embraced by an African ancestral energy that is not only protective, but uplifting.
In 22 years, I have seen those who truly want to uplift Gullah/Geechee culture as well. I have stood side-by-side with them at many county council meetings and marches to save Gullah/Geechee land and historic sites. We’ve cut our eyes as others enter rooms to serve on boards after the life threatening work appears to be complete and they hear that there is a budget somewhere to be spent. I’ve sat with the Gullah/Geechee freedom fighters on porches with elders in their 90s and 100s that were proud to share their stories and to know that someone was going to retain them and hopefully do something with them in order to make the future better fa de chillun.
GOD knows that whether or not I live another four decades, I have spent my life doing all that I can to make things better not only for the Gullah/Geechee children yet unborn, but also for Gullah/Geechee elders who were psychologically abused and manipulated into believing that their language and traditions were less than that of others. I, as they, were taught from propaganda materials amassed as textbooks that were steeped in the “Lost Cause Doctrine.” The difference is that I had a family that was aware of who we are and are proudly Gullah/Geechee. I had Black history books not only available through the library and I sought them out, but I also books in my own home coupled with the living books of family legacy on the land that we were taught to always hold onto.
Touching the Sea Island soil seemed to be when the ancestors held onto my hand and touched my soul. GOD renewed my mind and to this moment, it has been stayed on freedom. Freedom is a daily choice as much as it is a daily battle to maintain amidst the lack of those willing to fight for it. The aforementioned entertainers would stop what they were doing if there weren’t those sitting with them and often paying them to be entertained. Entertainment has its place, but not if it is chosen over the self-determination of a people and not if it is at the expense of the actual culture of a people being melted away with every inaccurate representation at a festival or on TicTok, YouTube and IG. Plenee ting dey dey wid Gullah or Geechee pun e nyam, but e ain da nun a we!
For 22 years, I have led by example to make sure people are well aware of Gullah/Geechee self-determination and the fact that we have the human right to fight for our land, water, and cultural heritage. This continues to be done in spite of the continued funding of work to provide the world with a counternarrative of Gullah/Geechees that seeds division and one that reinforces slavery and imagery via presentations that make people that still seek to have the restoration of Dixie feel comfortable. I have been told that my directness and firm stance for Gullah/Geechee self-determination intimidates some folks. However, if a person is not seeking to re-enslave me and my people or to support a system that does, I would see no reason that one would feel that way. If Gullah/Geechee self-determination is “threatening” to a person, then that person no doubt lacks the interest in having my people be truly free instead of simply being a part of performative actions such as festivals and meetings about being BIPOC equity while no equity or equality is actually being derived from any of those performative measures.
“Freedom is a road seldom traveled by the multitudes” I am well aware of. Yet, that is the road that I continue to travel daily. It is a wonderful thing to get in a clearing to rest and find other freedom fighters there. As we begin to dialogue we discover that daily we awake the same way-with our minds stayed on freedom! As Ms. Ella Baker said, “We who believe in freedom cannot rest.” So, although there is no rest for the weary, I can say I am blessed. I am blessed to live what it is to be free and to trod out a path that I pray other Gullah/Geechees will see. May they get on the path to true freedom and follow me on this glorious as well as tedious journey.
“Hunnuh tink free, hunnuh be free!”
Tune in to the 2022 State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation address from Gullah/Geechee TV (GGTV):