Sunday’s first editorial discusses the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor and why it’s important:
“Our children must know that they came from richness. They didn’t come from trifling. We must teach that.”
– Saundra Ward, Atlantic Beach, S.C. – May 2009 public information meeting
The 272-page plan released Wednesday to preserve and celebrate Gullah Geechee culture in the South won’t send hordes of visitors flocking to our coast. It won’t bring in a gushing flood of federal money. The document likely won’t even be on the radar of most residents, visitors and even leaders. Nevertheless, it’s important. Why? It represents another concrete step toward preserving a slice of our region’s rich history that has been in danger of being forgotten.
Maintaining our ties to our past is an essential and worthwhile goal, and there are already numerous local efforts afoot, whether in the Horry County Museum soon to be open in a newly remodeled building, the North Myrtle Beach Historical Museum in the works or the Historic Myrtle Beach Colored School Museum. The effort to create a heritage corridor celebrating the Gullah Geechee culture from North Carolina to Florida is a worthy addition to those efforts.
The history this latest initiative seeks to preserve is part of the building blocks of our heritage just as much as the historic Robert Mills courthouses in Georgetown or Conway, the hand-carved organ from the Myrtle Beach Pavilion or the historic homes and businesses in Little River.
While the management plan released Wednesday does include some modest suggestions for future facilities throughout its four-state area, the majority of the strategy revolves around better marketing and coordination of the current sites, keeping new costs to taxpayers to a minimum. For most local residents, the biggest physical change you might see in the coming years is a new sign or two on U.S. 17 marking the corridor. As partnerships are formed and heritage sites are identified, those locations might also feature new signs, said corridor Chairman Ron Daise, and will benefit from the coordinated marketing and improved visibility that being part of a national park can provide.
Michael Allen, the National Park Service representative assigned to the heritage corridor, said local tourism promoters and leaders should see the corridor as an opportunity to highlight this unique culture that helped shape the fabric of our society and take the time to share its importance with others.
“Now that we recognize this is an important part of that fabric,” he said, “it’s important to direct folks to those sites.”
Brad Dean, CEO of the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce, said that his group already promotes Gullah sites in its outreach to visitors. And the Strand is home to a number of places that keep the culture alive, including the Freewoods Farm, Brookgreen Gardens or Bunny Rodrigues’ Gullah O’oman museum in Pawleys Island, just to name a few.
In crafting the plan, which is open to public comment through Aug. 17, the corridor commission met multiple times with local residents both to hear their suggestions and to take down their memories. The goal, and it’s a good one, is to create a corridor that reflects this still vibrant culture through the voices and experiences of those who’ve lived it and builds on current efforts rather than supplant them.
“I want citizens in Horry and Georgetown to see themselves in this report,” Allen said, “… and to expect benefits from it.”
In the end, this is not about making money from tourism, or creating jobs, or building new business, although it could do a small bit of all of those things. It’s about keeping alive the memory of a unique part of our history, saving it for our children and for posterity, and remembering where we came from, so that we may know a bit better where we are headed.