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A story of community: the Gullah/Geechee's long-untold story could become part of the National Park System.

The Gullah/Geechee of the Southeast coast, with their unique culture, language, arts, and rituals maintained for centuries by the descendants of West Africa, have a remarkable story to tell--but few outsiders ever hear it.

That could soon change.

In a recently released study, the National Park Service says the Gullah/Geechee culture has not received its due from historians and offered five options to fix that, the next step in its effort to recognize the culture's place in American history and cast light on its story.

"This is the first time that the federal government has officially recognized us as a group of people," says Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee nation.

"That's extremely important to us, in and of itself."

Isolated on island communities from southern North Carolina to northern Florida, the Gullah/Geechee are known for a strong sense of community built on extended family units and living off the land and water. They have remained deeply connected to the roots of African culture (including its colorful art, crafts, foods, and religious rituals) and speak a distinct, Creole language.

The Park Service gathered historical information and public opinion from Gullah/Geechee citizens for two years before issuing its study. Among the agency's alternatives: creating cultural heritage centers, museum-like facilities in public parks; expanding some of the interpretive displays on Gullah/Geechee culture that now exist in public sites, such as Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in South Carolina; and establishing a National Heritage Area at which the Gullah/Geechee could tell their story. Congress is expected to consider the options next winter.

Queen Quet says the Gullah/Geechee community prefers the third approach, one that would give residents the financial and technical tools needed to tell their own story.

"We've held the story and live the story," she says. "It is our job to tell it."

In the study, the Park Service noted that historic sires of importance to European settlers have been identified, studied, and mapped in great detail. Perhaps because of the fear or reluctance to create interpretive displays dealing with slavery, however, sites with significance for African Americans have not been as well documented.

"The Park Service has an obligation--indeed, a responsibility--to address such issues," the report says, "even though they may be painful or uncomfortable to visitors."

Alan Spears, associate director of NPCA'S Enhancing Cultural Diversity program, applauds the Park Service's effort.

"The more complete a story that the Park Service tells about the national, cultural, and historic components of the United States, the deeper and better the understanding the public will have of the elements that have gone into forming us as a nation," he says.
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Title Annotation:News & Notes
Author:Dougherty, Ryan
Publication:National Parks
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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