Celebrate Gullah Culture
at York W Bailey Museum
on St Helena Island SC
Gullah culture and Gullah history are celebrated at the Gullah Festival of Heritage Days in November every year. This Gullah Festival is only one of the many special events that attract visitors to the York W Bailey Museum on St Helena Island. This museum is part of the Penn Center, a national historical landmark near Beaufort South Carolina.
We recently had a family reunion in Beaufort SC. This occasion gave my sisters and me the time to set out to do some sightseeing on our own. We toured some of the shops and attractions in the downtown area, and soon were crossing the bridge on our way to the nearby St Helena Island.
Penn Center on St Helena Island South Carolina
St Helena Island SC is the place to find Penn Center. This was an educational facility that began in 1862. It was intended to be a place that would teach basic education and trade skills to freed slaves. This school was operational until finally closing their doors in 1953.
Now this center is a place where the Gullah culture of West African people is celebrated and publicized and attracts more than 10,000 visitors each year. The Gullah Festival of Heritage Days brings many of these visitors who visit Penn Center and the York W Bailey Museum. With the passage of the Gullah-Geechee Heritage act, these sites will become even more prominent over the coming years.
The York W Bailey Museum was founded in 1971, and it details the rich history of the Penn Center for visitors. Once you arrive at the Center, you will find the museum housed in what was formerly the Cope Industrial Building. I was amazed at the amount of material that this small museum contained on St Helena Island.
What Does Gullah-Geechee Mean?
There are rare artifacts, writings, photographs, and letters that document life during the 18th-20th century for slaves, freemen, and African Americans born after the Civil War. The Gullah culture and Gullah-Geechee history is well displayed. Gullah has become the accepted name of the islanders in South Carolina and Geechee refers to the islanders of Georgia.
We were given a unique look at slavery, the Gullah culture and African American traditions and heritage. The Education for Freedom exhibit is the one permanent display at this museum. There are also rotating exhibits for guests throughout the year that feature crafts created by members of the Gullah-Geechee community.
We had the chance to see a number of beautiful baskets that were expertly woven by Gullah people from sweet-grass and I bought several of them to take with me as souvenirs. One basket can take a person days, or weeks to complete. These baskets can also be found at the Gullah Festival of Heritage Days on St Helena Island.
Rev. Martin Luther King and "I Have a Dream" Speech
The Center is located on a 50-acre tract of land that once was part of the Oaks Plantation. We were impressed with the beauty of the marshes, ancient live oak trees, and small paths that wind throughout the property.
The original buildings have been preserved and guests can tour 19 buildings including Darah Hall, which is the oldest man-made structure on St Helena Island. I especially enjoyed the tour of Gantt Cottage, which is where Rev. Martin Luther King stayed while writing his now famous I Have a Dream speech.
We found it to be a real treat to visit St Helena Island and the York W Bailey Museum where we learned firsthand about Gullah culture and Gullah history.