U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn traced the seeds of his idea for a Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to his newlywed days, when he listened to his wife, Emily, talk on the phone with her mother back in Moncks Corner.
"She would lapse into some kind of conversation I didn't understand," Clyburn said, adding that he could only hope that his wife was saying nice things about him.
That's because Emily Clyburn was talking in Gullah, a heavily African-influenced language that was part of a unique culture extending along the coast. Because the culture only reached about 30 miles inland and Clyburn grew up in Sumter, he wasn't familiar with it until later in his life.
Clyburn recounted that story Monday at an event honoring members of the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, who recently were appointed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The corridor extends from Jacksonville, Fla., to Wilmington, N.C.
Clyburn told the members that their job wouldn't always be easy.
"It's going to be tough, and you're going to be criticized, but don't be afraid of that," he said. "In fact, you need a little bit of that to keep you moored, to keep you humble and to keep you on task."
And just minutes after the 16-member commission was announced, a Georgia man complained about his state's representation on the panel. "We feel excluded," said Jim Bacote of the Geechee Cultural Arts Center, adding that only two of Georgia's four members had links to that state's Geechee Council.
Clyburn said he was aware of the complaint but noted Bacote could work with the new commissioners to gradually change that. The commission, not Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, will appoint new members as terms expire.
Michael Allen of the National Park Service's Charles Pinckney Historic Site helped put together a study on the culture, which he distributed to the new commissioners.
The corridor is the 37th National Heritage Area. They are areas with significant nature, culture, history and scenery, said Art Frederick of the National Park Service's Southeast region. "Hopefully, it will increase tourism and provide an economic shot in the arm for your local communities," he said.
Congress has authorized up to $1 million a year for 10 years for the corridor's work, but the first dollar has yet to be appropriated. Once it is, which could be by early next year, the commission will meet for the first time.