COLUMBIA (WACH) - Most people that live in South Carolina know about the Gullah population along the Georgia, SC and North Carolina coastline, but most don't know exactly who the Gullah are or what they represent.
The rich heritage of the Lowcountry Gullah extends all the way back to the coastal regions of West Africa. The topography and agricultural resources of coastal Carolina are similar which led many to remain in the Lowcountry and this has become the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor.
Along with vegetation that traveled over on African ships, came a multitude of insects as well, with mosquitos carrying diseases such as malaria and yellow fever. The European planters, who were slave owners had no immunities to the mosquitoes. With no insecticides or cures available, the European land owners were forced to leave the Lowcountry for three quarters of the year. This enabled this small sect of West Africans to enjoy freedoms that many slaves in the South were without. The freedom to speak their native language, to express African spirituality, to have families and celebrate holidays, rituals and customs from their homeland. In this way, their African heritage continued to be a part of their daily lives.
On November 7, 1861 the Battle of Port Royal gave the Union Army control of Hilton Head Island and Fort Walker. Within a year, a staunch abolitionist, Brigadier General Ormsby Mitchell proclaimed and protected an area of the north end of the island as land given to the Gullah, whom had lived and worked there for 100 years. This was during a time in between emancipation and outright freedom. This community became the first self governed town for the freedman, and they named it after the man who protected them, and called it Mitchelville. The town became a jump off for the Underground Railroad and people seeking liberation and freedom came here, including Harriet Tubman.
This unique history took place just miles from the tyranny and cruelty from Charleston, where so many Africans were stripped of their humanity. Penn Center in Beaufort and Mitchelville are special places, and I highly encourage every South Carolinian to see this area, smell the salt air and imagine life during the beginning transition to freedom and equality in our country.