Tag Archives: African-American Culture of Coastal Georgia
From dates on the cornerstones, I understand that this congregation was originally organized as the First Baptist Church in 1899, with Reverend J. Delk serving as first pastor. Dates also indicate that the congregation changed its name to Oak Grove Missionary Baptist around 1947. The present remodel likely dates to 1991, when a new cornerstone was placed. (Though the church has a White Oak address, it’s located in Tarboro. There’s no post office in Tarboro).
Dorchester Academy was founded as a primary school for African-American children by the American Missionary Association after the Civil War. The dormitory, designed by architect George Awsumb in 1934 to replace an 1890s structure lost to fire in 1932, is all that remains of a once-larger campus. After the school closed in 1940, demolition of the campus took place. The boys’ dormitory became the community center and still serves that purpose.
During the Civil Rights Movement it was the primary site of the Citizenship Education Program (CEP) (1961-70), an important initiative of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). This was seen as the basis for the highly successful Voter Education Project (VEP). One of the prime boosters of the CEP was Septima Poinsette Clark, a Charleston school teacher referred to as the “Queen Mother of the Civil Rights Movement”. The work of this and other so-called “citizenship schools” trained over 700 teachers and registered 50,000 voters by 1963.
Workshops were often held at the site with numerous civil rights icons in attendance, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, Wyatt Walker, and Dorothy Cotton.
National Historic Landmark
Sam Ripley, who was born to Harry Ripley around 1900, built this house on a section of his father’s land in 1926. He used salvaged wood and lumber discarded from area sawmills. For many years he worked at the Whitland Saw Mill (no longer extant) so some of the lumber likely came from there. As was typical of African-Americans in Liberty County at the time, Ripley maintained a subsistence farm. In 1934, Liberty County counted 560 African-American farmers cultivating 23,000 acres of their own land.
Ripley retired from the sawmill in 1940 but continued to do odd jobs around Midway and Dorchester, all while maintaining his farm. He died in 1988. The property was sold in 1994 and was used as a bed and breakfast for a time. It doesn’t appear to be in use at this time, but the property is well-maintained and is still being used as a small farm. Please note that it is private property and can only be viewed or photographed from the road.
National Register of Historic Places
I drove down to Riceboro yesterday to see the wonderful work Jim Bacote (above, right) has done with Geechee Kunda and to check out his Gathering, an annual celebration of Geechee and Gullah folkways. Jim is passionate about preserving this history and it’s tangible. Geechee Kunda is the culmination of his lifelong fascination with this endangered way of life. I first met him a couple of years ago when he was still working on his museum and history center so I didn’t get to make any photographs. He invited me to come back and I’m so glad I finally got to see it yesterday.
The highlight for me was a performance by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters (not to be confused with the McIntosh County Shouters, who organized about a decade before the Geechee Gullah). This group of dedicated men and women share the ring shout with the world and aim for authenticity. They’re historic interpreters of the highest order and preserve a tradition that was thought to be extinct as recently as 1980. Historians believe the ring shout is the oldest surviving African performance tradition in North America. While “shouting” in the vocal sense is a part of the performance, linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner, who spent a lifetime researching the Gullah language and culture, suggested that the term came from the Afro-Arabic word saut. This is a reference to the forward-moving shuffle, during which the feet are not to cross, associated with pilgrimages to the Kabaa at Mecca.
It’s hard not to come away from a performance by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters with a better understanding of a culture that, especially as white Southerners, we have kept at a distance at best or dismissed altogether at worst.
One thing you’ll quickly notice when you’re around the Shouters is their charisma. They’re very passionate about what they’re doing and you can feel it. You not only learn but you’re uplifted, as well.
In 2011, the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters set the Guinness World Record for leading the largest recorded ring shout, during the “Word, Shout, Song” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D. C.
Besides the world record ring shout, the group is also proud to have among their performers Mrs. Butler (above, right), who at 90 is the world’s oldest living ring shouter. She’s amazing.
At the end of the performance, a narrative of Emancipation is re-enacted and is quite powerful. If you couldn’t already tell, I was very moved by these living historians and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend one of their events.