Gullah is a vibrant culture native to the Lowcountry of South Carolina and there are places to experience Gullah in Charleston. Anyone who visits will hear the word Gullah at some point and want to know more about it.
The Gullah -Geechees are the descendants of slaves brought to our shores from West Africa to work on the indigo, rice and cotton plantations of the Lowcountry. Their imprint on Charleston culture runs deep, from the soulful flavors of Lowcountry cuisine to the artistry woven into each handcrafted sweetgrass basket.
Where to Go:
McLeod Plantation Historic Site
This 37 acre Gullah heritage site pays tribute to the enslaved Africans who lived on the grounds during the 1800s. The plantation has been thoughtfully preserved in recognition of its historical and cultural significance and offers many opportunities to learn about the relationships between those who lived and worked on the plantation. If you are a guest, you can tour dwellings built for enslaved families, view a display of antiques owned by former slave owners and trace the emergence of Gullah culture in the Lowcountry.;
Philip Simmons’ House
“Philip Simmons is a poet of ironwork. His ability to endow raw iron with pure lyricism is known and admired throughout, not only South Carolina, but as evidenced by his many honors and awards, he is recognized in all of America.”
This is where the famous and legendary blacksmith created long-lasting works of art in wrought iron. Philip Simmons lived in this house from 1960 to 2008 – now a museum, this home preserves his legacy as a master blacksmith. Many of his works are in the Smithsonian and the National Museum of American History.
This is a 25th Wedding Anniversary Gift created by Simmons
College of Charleston Library
The graveyard of the Brown Fellowship Society was for light-skinned Blacks only, or dark skinned Blacks who were financially “well-off.” The graveyard is located in the parking lots behind the College of Charleston Library.
This is the nation’s premier example of an urban plantation. This circa 1818 double house was erected by one of the state’s wealthiest citizens and encompasses nearly an entire city block. Pre-Civil War, the Aiken-Rhett House was maintained by highly skilled enslaved African Americans who worked hard to sustain the Aikens’ standards for living. Occupations included carriage drivers, cooks, gardeners, and seamstresses. The back lot of the house is where the enslaved lived, worked, and ate their meals.
Interior shot of the Aiken-Rhett House
Old City Jail – also known as Charleston’s most haunted building
The slave jail, known as the “Work House” was located to the east of the Old City Jail, which is located at 21 Magazine Street. It was there that Denmark Vesey, an insurrectionist, was kept before being hung. It was destroyed in the 1886 earthquake and the bricks were used to build the 1938 Mills Project.
The jail housed a number of convicts ranging from murderers to petty criminals throughout its extensive history.
Located on Church Street, you will find a three-storied row of houses locally known as “Cabbage Row.” These houses are from the Revolutionary War era and were mostly inhabited by the families of freed slaves. African Americans living in these houses would sell cabbage from their window sills, hence the row’s name, “Cabbage Row:” It is the setting for Charleston and Church Street native Dubose Heyward’s 1925 novel “Porgy,” in which he changed the name to “Catfish Row” in order to reflect the fictional location by the sea. This novel was the basis for Geroge Gershwin’s opera “Porgy and Bess.”
Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation is one of America’s oldest working plantations, continually growing crops for over 320 years.
Their Black History In America exhibit features nine historic slave cabins, preserved on the property of Boone Hall. These cabins have been adapted to present specific timeframes throughout American History. As a visitor you will be able to see the different aspects of daily life, how black Americans worked and lived, the struggles that they faced, and the historical progression from the beginning of their arrival in America up to the present day.
The artwork is by Kevin Chadwick: A Gullah woman snapping beans.