The 2018 Original Gullah Festival
WHAT: The Original Gullah Festival
WHEN: Memorial Day Weekend, Friday, May 25 through Sunday, May 27
WHERE: Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, 1 Bay Street, Historic Beaufort, SC
At the Original Gullah Festival this Memorial Day Weekend in Beaufort, S.C., visitors can discover the real Wakanda as portrayed in the hit movie, The Black Panther. But, where Hollywood has attempted to depict an important moment in history, Beaufort has experienced its authenticity for centuries.
The music, performances, art, food and friendly people of the Original Gullah Festival have attracted visitors to the historic city of Beaufort, S.C. every year since 1986 and this year’s event will not be an exception. The 2018 festival will focus on America’s Reconstruction Era from 1861 to 1898, during and after the Civil War on the east coast of America. Beaufort is known as the “Queen of the Sea Islands” and is home to descendants of freed people who cherish their cultural bonds and shared history.
Beaufort’s enslaved Africans were among the first to be freed on November 7, 1861, during the Battle of Port Royal near Hilton Head Island in southern Beaufort County. It was known as “the day when big-gun done shoot.”
Beaufort came under Union control just seven months after the Civil War began. Soon thousands of newly freed Africans were integrated into established social, political, educational and labor systems. This was not the norm in other parts of the nation and was just as futuristic in nature as Wakanda.
Beaufort’s Robert Smalls was one of the first heroes of the Civil War. He was a former slave who confiscated a Confederate gunboat and sailed his family and Black crew members to freedom across dangerous waters to a Union blockade.
The film’s King T’Challa is a fictitious hero, but General Smalls, who was born in Beaufort on April 5, 1839, was a true hero. He is revered in history as a champion for human rights. By commandeering the same boat on which he was a servant, he became the iconic symbol of Reconstruction. Gen. Smalls was later elected to congress, became an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln and authored the Compulsory Education Act that gave access to free public education to all people. He also helped establish the United States Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island and accomplished much for the betterment of all Americans.
Like Wakanda, Beaufort County and South Carolina boasted of wealth and advancements for Blacks during Reconstruction. Penn School, Mather School and Beaufort County Normal Training Schools were established to educate the newly freed people. A Black Lt. Governor was elected in the state.
The Sea Islands saw many historic moments marking the rise to freedom. They included the first public reading of The Emancipation Proclamation, the mustering of the United States Colored Troops (USCT), the Combahee River Raid led by Harriet Tubman, who was known as “The Little General.” The raid freed more than 700 enslaved Africans in June of 1863. Also, the first Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day, was established and celebrated by USCT and freedmen on May 1, 1865.
RECONSTRUCTION…THE UNTOLD STORY, the latest musical of the Circle Unbroken Gullah Journey from Africa to America Series, written by Anita Singleton Prather, is the true story of the newly freed Gullahs, a people determined to persevere out of the bondage of slavery to self-governing and full citizenship from the ashes of the American Civil War. Award-winning master storyteller, Aunt Pearlie Sue & The Gullah Kinfolk, bring alive this profound era of American History which was birthed on the Sea Islands of Beaufort County. Visitors can step back in time with this nationally-acclaimed ensemble’s full-stage musical and experience America’s Wakanda Reconstruction Era Monument…Beaufort County, South Carolina.
Other productions in this series are “Decoration Day,” An Old Fashion Memorial Day and “Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish…Freedom Coming.”
“Decoration Day” is the celebration that began in Charleston, South Carolina on May 1, 1865 shortly after the Civil War by United States Colored Troops USCT) and newly freed men to honor their fallen comrades. It is the inspiration for the creation of South Carolina’s Original Gullah Festival celebrated annually every Memorial Day Weekend.
“Decoration Day… An Old-Fashioned Memorial Day” is set shortly after the end of the Civil War. It tells the story of the first how Memorial Day began in the South. When the United States Colored Troops were passing through Charleston they honored some of their fallen comrades who had died in a Confederate prison once known as the Washington Race. They had been buried in a mass grave without proper burial rites, so the USCT dug up those 200 plus bodies and buried them in individual graves decorated with flags, flowers, shells and wooden crosses. This first celebration took place on May 1, 1865 with a parade that boasted more than 10,000 participants, speeches, picnics and more. The event was later moved to Beaufort, home of the first National Cemetery in South Carolina which had been established by an executive order of President Lincoln as a final resting place “for those who fought to preserve the Union.” Folks flocked to Beaufort in their best attire to honor the soldiers who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The celebration was held May 30th and would be highlighted by carnivals, baseball games, dancing around-the-clock at the local juke joints, parades, food vendors along Boundary and Bladen Streets, a procession from the Grand Army Hall of the Republic and memorial services at the national cemetery and at the waterfront. Beaufort’s Decoration Day was one of the largest Memorial Day celebrations in the Nation.
“Gullah Kinfolk Christmas Wish…Freedom Coming” brings to life the excitement of that last Christmas before the Civil War in December of 1860. South Carolina had just seceded from the Union. The masters were talking in the big house about war coming and servants were in their quarters talking about freedom coming. Reconstruction was on the way! This musical is part of Historic Beaufort’s Sea Island Christmas Celebration that kicks off the Yuletide Season annually the first Friday in December.
Aunt Pearlie Sue wants people of all races to come on to “Utopia” — Beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina – the real Wakanda – and learn about Gullah.
“Kno’ Yo Gullah…Kno’ Yo Roots,” she said.
For more information visit www.originalgullahfestival.org.