Pete Marovich moved to Beaufort with his family in 1974 when his father, Sgt. Maj. Pete Marovich Sr, was transferred to the Parris Island Marine Recruit Depot. At age 13 he was oblivious to the challenges of the Gullah/Geechee people. What he did see were the changes going on in nearby Bluffton and Hilton Head Island, witnessing firsthand how high-end residential communities were taking over the land and pushing out the native islanders.
Slideshows A Culture on the Brink
By Pete Marovich
Later, living on Hilton Head Island he met many Gullah/Geechee people and found them to be resilient and determined to preserve their culture.
Today, the Washington, D.C.-based photojournalist is working on a project to document the current story of the Gullah/Geechee people as they struggle to keep their traditions alive. The culture dates all the way back to West Africa and the people who were brought to America as slaves. Once here, these West Africans created their own community steeped in religion and African traditions. They also formed their own language — a mix of English and African languages.
When slavery was abolished in 1865, the former slaves of the Sea Islands remained on the land and became somewhat isolated after white slave owners abandoned the area. The Gullah/Geechee who stayed behind continued their traditions, making sweetgrass baskets, burying their dead by the shore, farming vegetables and fruits, and living life simply. Having lived this way for decades, they are believed to be one of the most culturally significant African-American communities in the United States.
The federally established Gullah/Geechee Heritage Corridor extends for hundreds of miles between Cape Fear, N.C., and the St. Johns River in Florida. Not only is it home to one of America's most unique cultures, but it's been a hotbed of real estate development for decades. In the face of new golf courses, resorts, and million-dollar homes, the Gullah/Geechee have been fighting to hold on to their land and culture. In 2004, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Gullah/Geechee Coast one of the 11 most endangered places in the United States.
The Gullah/Geechee of Sapelo Island, Ga., are the latest to fall victim to encroaching development. For generations, they've been the primary private landowners on Sapelo, but investors have slowly and quietly been buying up the island, increasing county taxes sharply and leaving many Gullah/Geechee distraught as they struggle to keep their homes. A recent New York Times article profiled one 73-year-old resident whose property taxes on a three-room home and acre of land went from $362 in 2011 to $2,312 in 2012. Those numbers are at the core of the struggle.
Marovich has been working on documenting the Gullah/Geechee for 10 years and has traveled to Sapelo, Hilton Head, and St. Helena islands, meeting and photographing the Gullah/Geechee people he meets along the way.
Currently, he is trying to raise $7,000 via Kickstarter to complete the project and pay photography expenses over the next 12 months. Update: Marovich raised over $7,300 on Kickstarter, and will soon begin work on the next stages of the project. For more information, visit his website.
Additionally, he will have a selection of images framed for exhibition. Once complete, the exhibit will be made available to organizations and galleries that are interested in telling the Gullah/Geechee story. The exhibit will be offered free of charge with the exhibitor paying for shipping and insurance.
Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/ Geechee Nation, is a supporter of Marovich's project and has expressed an interest in showing the exhibit at future Gullah/Geechee events. Donations to the project can be made here: tinyurl.com/gullah
It should be noted that if the project does not reach its funding goal by Nov. 24, 2012, none of the funding will be received.