A Gullah Gallery: An Ode to Charleston’s Black History

When thinking about black history, we often reflect on those who came before us. In a city like Charleston, the spirit of the Gullah community is alive through everyday customs and practices that you may not have even known had originated from the Gullah people.

Early Origins of the Gullah People

The Gullah people are descendants of West Africans slaves who were located in the lowcountry region of South Carolina including its sea islands. Historians have linked Charleston’s Gullah ancestry to Bunce Island, Sierra Leone, and Angola. The culture and language of the Gullah people is a blend of West African and European practices. The Gullah language has been inaccurately referred to as broken English when it is actually an English creole language. They use their language to pass down folk tales to younger generations and to sing spirituals in order to preserve the Gullah culture. Before, during, and after slavery, this group of people worked mostly off the coast of the state in fishing and agricultural industries. The climate and environment of South Carolina is similar to that of West Africa so the Gullah community was very knowledgable on land cultivation.

Food for the Soul and the South

The Gullah people are responsible for Charleston’s rich food history. The city is known famously for its shrimp and grits, rice pilaf, and lowcountry seafood boil. Many of these dishes were both affordable and able to feed a family for the week when made in one pot. Oysters and okra soup are both dishes Charlestonians began to eat after the Gullah people introduced it to the community. When dining in the downtown area, it is easy to point out which meals had some African influence with southern flare. Next time you are hungry, we recommend you try these black-owned Charleston Gullah restaurants: Hannibal’s Kitchen, Bertha’s Kitchen, East Side Soul Food, and My Three Sons of Charleston.

African Artistic Roots

Pieces of the Gullah culture can be seen thoughout Charleston. Sweetgrass creations are sold in the city market in the style of baskets, roses, bags, etc. by the locals. Originally used as functional baskets to carry items and to minnow rice, the artistic skill of the Gullah people is a hot commodity for tourists and locals to collect. Local sweetgrass artist, Corey Alston (pictured above) is known for his beautiful craftmanship and his work is featured in the Charleston City Market and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Lowcountry artist Jonathan Green, grew up on the sea islands and reflected his Gullah upbringing through his art. He is known in the creative world as an important artist of the Southern experience. In religious spaces, the ring shout is practiced among the Gullah people and many black Baptist and Methodist churches throughout the South. Dancing, call and response singing, and percussive hand clapping made up the praise and worship services which paid homage to their African origins.

Celebration and Culture

The Gullah culture is celebrated in numerous ways across the Lowcountry. Every May, the city of Beaufort hosts The Original Gullah Festival with a weekend full of food, art, and workshops. Also in May, the Gullah Gala “Charleston Renaissance; Birth of Art,” will be featuring music, fashion, and local businesses at Founders Hall in Charleston, SC.

The Charleston Gullah community has preserved their African heritage and customs more than any other African American group in the United States. Next time you find yourself in the Charleston area, take time to attend a Gullah tour, eat at local soul food restaurants, and speak to the Gullah people in the market to learn more about the rich black history here in the holy city.


9 Facts You Should Know about Local Hero, Septima P. Clark

“I believe unconditionally in the ability of people to respond when they are told the truth. We need to be taught to study rather than to believe, to inquire rather than to affirm.”- Septima P. Clark
  1. She is a Charleston native

Septima P. Clark was born May 3, 1898 on Wentworth St. in the historic Downtown Charleston district. Born to a former slave and Haitian laundress, her parents strived to provide a strong foundation of learning for young Septima.

  1. Septima was a devoted educator

Clark earned her teaching license at the age of 18 instructing black children in John’s Island and downtown at the Avery Normal Institute (now the College of Charleston Avery Research Center). Additionally, she taught black Charleston locals how to read and write in order for them to vote by using Sears catalogs and household items to instruct her students. Septima continued her education and earned her bachelor’s degree from Benedict College (1942) and her master’s from Hampton Institute (1946).

  1. She was an activist for black teacher pay and teacher desegregation in Charleston schools

In 1956, Clark worked closely with the Charleston Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to fight for black teachers rights to equal pay and be allowed to work in South Carolina public schools. Although her efforts were successful that year, her teaching license was revoked due to her affiliation with the NAACP. Since she could no longer teach in SC, Clark moved to Tennessee and worked for the Highlander Folk School. She helped improve students’ literacy skills and led workshops in social justice/political engagement – Rosa Parks attended one of these sessions before being at the forefront of the Montgomery bus boycott.

  1. Clark was a key figure of the Civil Rights Movement

In 1961, Clark went on to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Ga. She was appointed as the director of teaching and education over its Citizen Education Program. Septima hosted workshops to prepare black Americans for protests and the polls. She believed that education was important for African Americans to progress forward in society. In this position, she played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement and was coined the “Mother of The Movement” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  1. She holds many accolades and awards

Clark moved back to Charleston and was elected to the Charleston School Board in 1975 and had her teacher’s pension reinstated after her wrongful termination decades earlier. The College of Charleston awarded Septima Clark with an honorary degree and received the Living Legacy Award under President Carter the following year for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1982, she earned the highest SC civilian award, Order of the Palmetto.

  1. Septima Clark is a published author

Septima Clark wrote two memoirs, Echo in My Soul (1962) and Ready from Within (1986) to highlight her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and her platform of literacy, education, and political participation among African Americans. In 1987, her second book received the American Book Award.

  1. She has a school dedicated to her educational mission in Charleston

Clark’s legacy continues through the installment of Septima P. Clark Corporate Academy in 1990 which is an educational program that assists at-risk high school students in receiving their high school diploma.

  1. Clark’s life will soon appear on stage

Check out the upcoming play, SEPTIMA, commissioned by PURE Theatre and the League of Women Voters of the Charleston Area to learn more about Septima Clark’s contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. The play will run from March 9th to April 1st at the PURE Theatre in Downtown Charleston.

  1. The College will be celebrating the work of Septima Clark in new exhibition

The newly installed Septima P. Clark Memorial Auditorium will be hosting an exhibition in Clark’s honor Thursday, February 23, 2023 at 5:00pm. It will be held in the Thaddeus Street Jr. Education Center at the College of Charleston. To learn more about local hero Sepitma Clark and her impact in the Charleston community, check out The College’s exhibition website. https://ldhi.library.cofc.edu/exhibits/show/septima_clark

A Memorial for the Ancestors

Over the coming months, La’Sheia Oubré and Joanna Gilmore will be working to engage community members in the process of creating the memorial. They will identify individuals in the African American community who match the demographic profiles of the thirty-six Ancestors to provide models for the hands of the Ancestors. The hands of the selected individuals will be moulded in alginate (a natural substance) and later cast in bronze and then attached to the basin. The Ancestors included infants, children, teenagers, and adult women and men.

How can I get involved?

We are looking for people to volunteer who match the demographic profiles of the Ancestors to have their hands cast. Volunteers will be asked to meet with Stephen Hayes for the molding of their hands between February 16 and 18, 2023.

Oubré and Gilmore will also work with individuals, churches and organizations to collect soil from African descendant burial grounds in Charleston. The collected soil will be used in the fabrication of the basin to symbolize the many enslaved and free Africans who lived, toiled and were buried in the earth upon which our city is built.

If you know of a particular burial ground or your church or family members are connected to a sacred burial ground and you would like to collect soil to be used in the memorial design please contact us.

To register your interest in serving as a hand model or to volunteer to collect soil from a burial ground that is meaningful for you or your community, please click the link below

Find out more

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

US Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Minority Health

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is observed each July to bring awareness to the unique struggles that racial and ethnic minority communities face regarding mental illness in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for racial and ethnic minority groups to get access to mental health and substance-use treatment services. Read More…

Join us and register for the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Birthday Celebration on December 18, 2021 at 1pm


DATE AND TIME: December 18, 2021 1-3 PM Via Zoom

SPONSOR: Charleston Area Branch of ASALH

DESCRIPTION: A celebration honoring the birthday of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and year end party for branch members, friends and supporters.


Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney, President Elect ASALH National

Dr. Bernard Powers, Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston


Dr. Tamara Butler, Director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture

Program Agenda

Call to Order

Lift Every Voice and Sing


Forum – The Legacy of Dr Carter G. Woodson

Presenters: Dr. W. Marvin Dulaney and Dr. Bernard Powers

Branch Awards


Closing Remarks

Woodson Birthday Celebration


Join us for the 2021 ASALH Founders Day Celebration on October 9, 2021 at 1pm


The Charleston Area Branch of ASALH will celebrate Founders Day by welcoming Dr. Tonya Matthews, who is the new Chief Executive Officer of the International African American Museum (IAAM). The Museum is located at the historical site of Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, South Carolina and is scheduled to open in 2022. IAAM has been described as “one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as America continues the walk toward ‘a more perfect union’”

A thought leader in inclusive frameworks, social entrepreneurship and education Dr. Matthews will share her thoughts on the historical importance of ASALH, the Black family and her vision for IAAM at this moment of racial reckoning.

We will also welcome the inaugural class of the College of Charleston’s 1967 Legacy Program. The program is comprised of a group of high achieving Black students pursuing excellence in the tradition of Dr. Carter G. Woodson.



Lift Every Voice and Sing

President’s Comments

Introduction of Featured Speaker

Featured Speaker Remarks: Dr. Tonya M. Matthews, Chief Executive Officer, International African American Museum, Charleston SC

Special Guest Presentation: College of Charleston 1967 Legacy Program


Closing Remarks

About Guests

Dr. Tonya M. Matthews

Dr. Tonya M. Matthews is Chief Executive Officer of the International African American Museum (IAAM) at the historically sacred site of Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, SC. As a champion of authentic, empathetic storytelling of American history, IAAM is one of the nation’s newest platforms for the disruption of institutionalized racism as America continues the walk toward “a more perfect union.”

A thought-leader in inclusive frameworks, social entrepreneurship, and education, Matthews has written articles and book chapters across these varied subjects. She is founder of The STEMinista Project, a movement to engage girls in their future with STEM careers. Matthews is also a poet and is included in 100 Best African-American Poems (2010) edited by Nikki Giovanni. Matthews received her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins University and her B.S.E. in engineering from Duke University, alongside a certificate in African/African-American Studies.

College of Charleston 1967 Legacy Program

The Legacy 1967 Program aims to improve the recruitment, retention, graduation and workplace success of Black students through scholarships, enhanced and extended education support, and professional preparation, as well as research the experiences of the Black trailblazers who contributed to the College.


Register below to obtain the Zoom meeting information.

African History/Maryland History/ South Carolina History – $500 Award – Global Journey Scholar Contest Students Eligible to Apply through Monday September 20, 2021


The Global Journey Scholars Program encourages students to explore African history throughout the year.  We highlight the vast contributions and influence of Africans and Africans born in America and other countries who have been instrumental in contributing to society and humanity.    All students in grades 5-12 are eligible to apply.

To pay homage to Kunta Kinte and the many ancestors who shared a similar journey during the MAAFA, the August /September Global Journey Scholar will prepare works that examine the importance of remembering history through names. 

Today, in the state of Maryland, there is a township in Prince George’s County called “Mitchellville, Maryland”.  But did you know that in 1862, a township called Mitchelville was formed in South Carolina?  Names have always been important to African, Gullah and American traditions.  It is a way to remain connected to memories and energy of significant people (i.e., ancestors), important events and historical places.  Many cities, states and countries are currently in the midst of ensuring equity in the recognition, remembrance and celebration of the contributions of people of African descent.

Global Journey Scholar Contest: 

Find out more about the two townships called Mitchelville.  

Compare Mitchellville, MD and Mitchelville, SC.  What are the similarities between the two townships and populations?  How are the two townships different? 


1.  Immerse yourself in being a journalist.  Using the 5 W’s (who, what , when, where, and why) conduct research to find out and report on how Mitchelville SC was established. Remember that it is important to use multiple sources and verify your sources of information.  To share your findings, you may create a timeline, research report, creative visual artwork or video that showcases how the Gullah people of West African descent residing in Mitchelville, SC persevered, maintained and demonstrated West African culture and traditions when they created their own community in SC. 

2.  Immerse yourself in being an architect.  Design your vision of what the next Mitchellville city or town might look like in the future.  What might you and your team of engineers, construction workers, city planners and other members of the project team consider as your  begin the design project.  Think about the current design of Mitchellville, Maryland.  What are some considerations that would be important to you and future generations who would live there to foster healthy communities that serves the needs of the citizens of the future.  For example, if you had control of city planning, where would you place residential communities?  What style of communities would you have?  How would you build environmental sustainability into your city model?   How would you ensure that you have the proper infrastructure for transportation, public health and educational systems?  What role would animal rights play? Where would potentially displaced animals be relocated to in your design?

Due to COVID-19, the Global Journey Scholars Award portion will be virtual.  Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival will announce the winner live at the event and a recording will be posted to the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival  and Global Journey for Children websites and social media.

All submissions are due September 20, 2021 by 11:39PM EST. 

Criteria and eligibility guidelines are available on the Global Journey Scholars Page on the website.

Note Date Change: Join us on July 17th at 1pm for The Black Family: Worship Traditions and Faith Institutions

PROGRAM TITLE: The Black Family: Worship Traditions and Faith Institutions

DATE AND TIME: Saturday, July 17, 2021, 1-3PM EST via Zoom

SPONSORS: Charleston Area Branch of ASALH

DESCRIPTION:  Worship traditions and faith institutions are a significant historic element of African American life and culture. This forum will explore the rich diversity of these traditions and institutions with a focus on their roles and impact on the Black family.

MODERATOR: Dennis Muhammad, Esq.


Lee Bennett, Historian, Mother Emmanuel AME Church

Rev. DeMett Jenkins, Lilly Director of Education and Engagement for Faith Based Communities, International African American Museum

Kathleen Merritt, Director, Office of Ethnic Ministries, Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston


Online Event on June 26th at 12pm: The Black Family: United by History, Restored by Storytelling

Join the Association for the Study of African American Life and History for our project launch on June 26th with insightful presentations by Tracey Artis from Black Family Reunion and Therese Nelson of Black Culinary History. Through this launch event, we hope to inspire families to reconnect and reemerge whole through archiving, storytelling, and breaking bread guided by both our live and pre-recorded sessions.

In continuing this year’s theme, “The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity,” the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is excited to announce a new national campaign, “The Black Family: United by History, Restored by Storytelling.” Launching in collaboration with NY Life and Archival Alchemy®, the campaign encourages participants to host intergenerational Black family reunions—virtual or in person—to explore their unique African American heritage and family History.

“The Black Family: United by History, Restored by Storytelling” will include prerecorded workshops, Q&A sessions, panel discussions, and a certificate program to guide participants through tools of oral storytelling, genealogy, and familial archiving that may serve as a roadmap to their reunions, after a year apart.