I-526 extension would threaten Gullah culture
BY RONALD DAISE
What are the thoughts of the ancestors of Gullah Geechee people, I wonder, as Charleston County Council is poised to vote today on handing over to Charleston City Council the Interstate 526 infrastructure project through Johns and James islands?
The question intrigues me as I travel to Jacksonville, Fla., for the homegoing services of Commissioner Annette I. Kashif, a staunch advocate of Gullah Geechee culture. Gullah Geechee belief promotes that the spirits of our ancestors guide and protect us.
As such, another proponent in the spiritual realm is mulling over a concern that the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission emphatically opposes.
The Commission’s Resolution against this project is proudly listed in our recently released Management Plan. We urge council members who continue to support our request of 2011 to hold fast.
The project will devastate the already-threatened Gullah Geechee culture and is inconsistent with the Management Plan’s emphasis on cultural protection and preservation.
Two commissioners are Johns Island residents and native sons, and their thoughts about the matter are worthy of consideration.
“People don’t know what they’re trampling on, and because of what they don’t understand, they feel they’re trampling on nothing,” says Commissioner J. Herman Blake.
Commissioner William “Bill” Saunders adds: “The 526 project would be the end of Gullah Geechee culture. The culture is more than something that can just be seen. It’s food, religion, the land. It’s even our attitude about time. We get there (any destination) late and leave late. It’s our beliefs that are handed down in our meeting places, like our churches.”
Both commissioners contend that the issue is not solely a Gullah Geechee or black one, however, but a community one.
“All the white people round here speak Gullah,” Saunders said. “We’ve been able to bring everyone together. This is our home. Our home should not be destroyed.”
The proposed $558 million extension would promote development, sprawl and increased traffic that we and numerous community members contend would decimate the character of these communities and negatively impact the quality of life for numerous families, current and in generations to come.
With thoughts of the living, the deceased and the unborn, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission would regard the council’s cooperation in fulfilling our obligation to preserve our cultural and environmental coastal heritage as an act of partnership that is urgently needed.
Ronald Daise is chairman of Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission.