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“Making Gullah”: Sapelo, Race and the American Imagination

November 9, 2019 @ 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


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Join us for a talk with Dr. Melissa Cooper whose new work, “Making Gullah: A History of Sapelo Islanders, Race, and the American Imagination” upends a long tradition of scrutinizing the Gullah Geechee people of Sapelo Island by refocusing the observational lens on those who studied them.

Misconceptions and stereotypes — often created by outsiders– about the Gullah Geechee people persist and complicate the work of sharing the full extent of their historic and cultural contributions. (One such mistaken belief: that the Gullah Geechee people only live on the Sea Islands.) During the 1920s and 1930s, anthropologists and folklorists became obsessed with uncovering connections between African Americans and their African roots. At the same time, popular print media and artistic productions tapped the new appeal of black folk life, highlighting African-styled “voodoo” as an essential element of black folk culture.

A number of researchers converged on one site in particular, Sapelo Island, Georgia, to seek support for their theories about “African survivals,” bringing with them a curious mix of both influences. The legacy of that body of research is the area’s contemporary identification as a Gullah community.

Dr. Cooper uses a wide variety of sources to unmask the connections between the rise of the social sciences, the voodoo craze during the interwar years, the black studies movement, and black land loss and land struggles in coastal black communities in the Low Country. What emerges is a fascinating examination of Gullah Geechee people’s heritage, and how it was reimagined and transformed to serve vastly divergent ends over the decades.


November 9, 2019
2:00 pm - 4:00 pm


Johns Island Regional Library
Johns Island, South Carolina, + Google Map


Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor