The Gullah Society works to maintain Charleston area, African-American burial sites.
Unmarked cemeteries for enslaved West Africans and their Gullah Geechee descendants exist all over Charleston. These graves were originally marked with a variety of objects, from carved wooden grave markers to seashells to objects belonging to the deceased. Over time, these markers were lost, and graves were forgotten.
One such grave was rediscovered during the construction of the new foundation for Charleston’s Gaillard Center in 2013, near Anson Street. In this grave, the remains of 36 African-descended men, women, and children were uncovered. These remains are the earliest burials found in Charleston, dating back to the mid-late 1700s.
Some time later, the city built over the gravesite. “Up until World War II, it was not uncommon for churches and city officials to say, ‘This burial ground is full so we’re going to build on top of it,’ ” Nic Butler, a historian at the Charleston County Public Library, told the Post and Courier last August.
With the destruction of these graves, the memories of those buried there are at risk of being lost.
In 2012 Ade Ofunniyin created the Gullah Society
, a local nonprofit that assists those seeking to reconnect with their Gullah heritage. As part of its mission the Society is committed to issues around land use especially "lack of access to traditional areas, recreation sites, seafood harvesting access areas, burial grounds, and religious sites.”
This year the Gullah Society is hosting a series of community discussions to help determine what kind of memorial will be created to honor the 36 African-descended people found on the Gaillard gravesite, in preparation of the reinterment of the individuals (which the Society hopes to take place in Feb. 2019).
The Society wants to hear from the community about how they want to remember and honor their ancestors.
The first discussion, Making the Memorial, will be held on March 16 (6-8 p.m.) at St. Julian Devine Community Center. Another Making the Memorial discussion will be held on April 16 (6-8 p.m.) at Arthur W. Christopher Community Center. Both discussions will feature free Gullah cuisine from Hannibal's Kitchen.
The third discussion will be about Family History and Identity, held on May 19, with a time and location TBD.
Learn more about the Anson Street Burials, as well as other Gullah Society
sacred ground projects, online.