The Gullah-Geechee people are the descendants of enslaved people from west and central African countries such as Angola, Senegambia, and the Gold Coast. Despite their bondage, enslaved people continued to observe and celebrate their culture and heritage. Many enslaved communities also created new customs and traditions in America. The Gullah-Geechee people, for example, are known for their sweetgrass baskets. Sweetgrass, found in the southeast coastal region, was used to weave ornate baskets for storing or carrying food and personal items. Today, descendants continue this tradition of basket-weaving and it is now an art. Locals sell these baskets in different parts of the region, including at Market Hall, Charleston’s city center. In the late 1700s, Charles Pinckney, a slave owner and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, gave part of his land to establish Market Hall. Locals and tourists will not only find sweetgrass baskets at Market Hall, they will also find other shops and businesses that contribute to the culture and vibrancy of the city.
To preserve and protect the rich heritage of the region, Congress designated the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor in 2006, which spans the coast from North Carolina to Florida. Hundreds of natural and cultural sites are included in this 12,000 mile stretch of land. Members of the public are encouraged to explore the sites and celebrate the culture of the Gullah Geechee.
After exploring the city of Charleston, take a trip to the Penn Center, located on St. Helena Island. Located fifteen minutes from the National Park Service’s new Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort, SC, the Penn Center is just one of the sites in the area that interprets the events of Reconstruction. Once a school for formerly enslaved people, the Penn Center is now a heritage and education facility dedicated to telling the story of the Gullah-Geechee people. Take a tour of the museum, visit the gift shop, and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of the island.
Located 25 minutes outside Charleston, the Caw Caw Interpretive Center also offers interactive exhibits about the Gullah-Geechee people. In addition to hiking the nature trails or strolling along the boardwalk, visitors can tour the rice fields were enslaved people once labored. Guests can also see sites associated with the Stono Rebellion of 1739, one of the largest uprisings of enslaved Africans in North America.
Return to the Resilience & Freedom Trip Idea or discover more of Charleston’s stories.