As many drive along the historic roadways of the Gullah/Geechee Nation from Jacksonville, NC to Jacksonville, FL instead of running through this tremendous cultural landscape via I-95, they are often in awe of what is before their eyes as they traverse the scenic byways. Those that decide to drop the top back or put down the windows get to breathe in deeply and take in what truly flavors the Lowcountry-salt.
Salt is not the only thing that adds flavor to the coast of the southeast. Gullah/Geechee culture is also quite flavorful not only due to the way we enhance our cuisine, but because of the vibrance and tastefulness that folks find unforgettable about us when they encounter us. One of the places that you will often find us is amidst the salt marsh casting nets or going after blue crabs or picking oysters to feed our families while breathing in the very air that feeds our souls. Like the spartina grass or salt marsh that is a major part of our ecosystem, we’ve migrated up and down the waterways and held in place a cultural landscape for multiple generations as our roots go deeper into the soil and we stand tall bringing healing to this land.
Along the marsh strewn coastline of the Gullah/Geechee Nation are sacred burial grounds, places of baptism and bush arbors as well as places where our ancestors and elders ring shouted. The salt marsh served as places of safety and escape from chattel enslavement for many of our ancestors as well. So, when I stand amidst these vibrant important grasses, I feel like I am the Sankofa bird replacing the oyster catcher feeding from amidst them. Aaah, my soul is filled with the power and energy of how this has been a place of safety and unification for generations and how it has returned to being that type of space once again.
When I was asked whether or not I would be willing to be a part of a steering committee in order to protect 1 million acres of salt marsh on the Atlantic coast, I didn’t hesitate to say, “Yes.” I had no idea that by doing so, I would be joining a group of over 300 collaborating partners that also loved the salt marsh and wanted to ensure that it would be restored, sustained and protected because it helps to protect and sustain our coastline. Working together would mean “saving a Lowcountry treasure.” Yes, S.A.L.T.!
The South Atlantic Salt March Initiative has moved us to truly be the salt flavoring our southeastern coast with different perspectives on why the salt marsh is valuable and in so doing, choosing to “marsh forward” together in a long overdue work that will help leave a flavorful and healthy legacy for future generations. While we took the time to put together our SASMI plan, we’ve been blessed to not only see Beaufort County, SC uphold the Cultural Protection Overlay District for historic rural St. Helena Island, SC where you can truly view the salt marsh as you ride along the Highway 21/Sea Island Parkway Scenic Highway through the island and stop along the way at some of the vistas on Beaufort Open Land Trust properties along the way, but we have also been able to celebrate receiving the new “Lowcountry Sentinel Landscape” designation. Each one of these designations and initiatives are all focused on a word that my people know all too well-resilience.
Coupling cultural heritage resilience with environmental resilience has been central to my contribution to the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative. It has been wonderful adding some Gullah/Geechee flavor to what this multicultural and multidisciplinary collaborative team has cooked up to serve along the coast. I’m looking forward to us gathering under the oak trees at the edge of the salt marsh to share this work the same way we get together for some Frogmore Stew after gathering the shrimps and blue crabs from amidst the salt marsh and bringing them back to the family compounds to feed everyone for another day. I rest assured that all that read our plan at www.MarshForward.org and join us in this effort will find their souls fed and will realize the importance of being a part of saving our salt marsh which is a Lowcountry treasure.