The old dock here is no longer used due to disrepair but the early-20th-century dock house [also known as the Valona Fish House] is a survivor. [As the sign clearly states, don’t trespass]. Beth Walters-Parker notes that this was Captain Hunter’s place. The Valona Shrimp Company, which operates in this area, is perhaps the oldest shrimping businesses in Georgia.
Tag Archives: Endangered Culture of Coastal Georgia
I made these photos in 2009; no one was living here when I was in the neighborhood earlier this summer. As a self-service ice house, it served an important purpose in this community of fishermen. The owners were obviously on the honor system, but to make sure customers were honest, a decorative skeleton kept an eye on things. The “answers” part of the sign always got my attention. I imagined fortune-telling and voodoo, superstitions and practices once associated with African-Americans (if sometimes incorrectly so).
This interesting church in the Harrington community was built just as the historic African-American neighborhoods of St. Simons were reaching their ebb. It’s a utilitarian example of the two-tower style, common among African-American congregations on the coast in an earlier time. The cinderblock structure, built sometime between 1950-1954, has unpainted sides, with the front being the only “finished” section. A more traditional structure, the circa 1920 Pentecostal Zion Church, stands behind this one.
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.
This house likely dates to the 1870s, but that is just a guess; it could be 1850s. Bobbie Spikes identified it as her grandparents’ home when I first published the images in 2012. Teresa LaRoche Riley, whose father grew up here as well, recently shared a photo of the house on Facebook and that gave me the encouragement I needed to consolidate all my photos into one post. It is likely beyond repair, but it’s a wonderful remnant of a lost generation in Coastal Georgia.
The house still retains its original kitchen.
An interior view indicates it was occupied as recently as 20-25 years ago.
The photos above were originally made around 2011. Below is an image from November 2018.