Pictured above: Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, at the Hidden Hands garden project at the College of Charleston at Stono Preserve.

There is power in connecting the past with the present. It lends perspective for the future and helps shape our understanding of the struggles and hopes of cultures different from our own.

That’s why on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, from noon to 1:30 p.m. the College of Charleston’s graduate program in Environmental and Sustainability Studies will host a livestreamed choreopoem performance titled “Gullah/Geechee Freedom Celebration” at the College’s recently restored Sottile Theater. The performance is in recognition of October’s designation as Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Month.

Coined in 1975 by a descendant of the Gullah/Geechee nation, a “choreopoem” is a dynamic performance combining poetry, dance, music and song. And it’s the perfect medium to embody this indigenous sea island culture.

“Gullah/Geechee Freedom Celebration” will include presentations from the following performers:

  • Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee nation
  • Gullah/Geechee songstresses Latrese Bush and Lorraine Singleton
  • Actor Ernest Parks, Dayclean de African Spirit
  • Elder Carlie Towne of the Gullah/Geechee Angel Network.
  • Artwork of Gullah/Geechee resistance artist Brother Nizar and Gullah/Geechee artist Quadré Stuckey

The partnership between members of the College community and the Gullah/Geechee Nation began over a decade ago. But last year the collaboration grew deeper when Annette Watson, director of the master’s program in Environmental and Sustainability Studies, and Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, stood in an open field at the College of Charleston at Stono Preserve, an 881-acre property along the Stono River in Hollywood, South Carolina, looking at two empty raised beds. After years of conversations, they looked at that clearing and allowed themselves to dream of a garden that would serve diverse communities.

The result of their collaboration is an extension of the Stono Student Garden called the “Hidden Hands that Worked this Soil” teaching garden, which aims to recognize the contributions of the Gullah/Geechee to the agricultural traditions of the Lowcountry. Stono Preserve and the Student Garden’s Hidden Hands project will be featured in the Gullah/Geechee Freedom Celebration event.

The garden serves as a living lab for students like Sasha Pramesti, a senior biology major who is focusing her bachelor’s essay on Gullah food traditions and designing a “kitchen garden” display for the Hidden Hands project.

“I’m really interested in learning how immigrant and indigenous communities have shaped America’s foodways,” says Pramesti.

cofc students with queen quet at stono preserve

CofC students with Queen Quet at the College of Charleston at Stono Preserve. (Photos provided)

The livestreamed performance at the Sottile Theatre will celebrate the Gullah/Geechee and their unique ties to the coastal environment along with their struggles to stay on the lands they inherited. The celebration will support the Land & Legacy Fund, which has a mission to ensure land and cultural legacy retention by native Gullah/Geechees from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida.

“It is tremendously important that native Gullah/Geechees retain their land ownership and return to self-sufficiency while maintaining our traditional practices on the land and from the sea for reasons including food security, public health and personal safety,” says Queen Quet. “In addition, native Gullah/Geechees need to be able to build multigenerational wealth so that future generations will be able to continue our culture on our land. This is what our ancestors intended for us to do when they saved pennies, nickels and dimes to purchase the land that we live on today.”

That’s exactly why Watson supports the Gullah/Geechee Nation and wants to help them share their history with the College’s students.

“It’s important to highlight the voices of African Americans to tell their own history on the land, including the land that the College now owns,” says Watson.

The event is free, but donations can be made through the Event Brite listing. The livestream can be viewed at iframe.dacast.com/b/15725/c/439329. A recording of the performance can also be viewed at www.facebook.com/cofcenvstudies.