Our 2017 Gullah Festival, celebrates Beaufort County, South Carolina’s rich Gullah Geechee heritage and the role Beaufort played in shaping the historic period of American history known as the Reconstruction Era. This year’s theme is, “Come Home to a Celebration of Reconstruction…The Untold Story”…the story of the newly freed Gullahs, a people determined to persevere out of the bondage of slavery to self-governing and full citizenship from the ashes of the American Civil War. On January 12, 2017, President Barack Obama by Presidential Proclamation, esteemed Beaufort County part of the National Park System the Reconstruction Era National Monument. What are some of the highlights and persons of that period in history connected to these sacred grounds…Battle of Port Royal, Big-gun Done Shoot, November 7, 1861, when all the Blacks in Beaufort were freed when all the Whites evacuated Beaufort County…Gen. Robert Smalls, a Black man in 1862, became a hero for the Union by commandeering the Confederate boat the Planter and later wrote the compulsory education act for free public education…Harriet Tubman led the Combahee River Raid that freed over 700 enslaved Africans at one time on June 2, 1863…Laura Towne, Ellen Murray, and Charlotte Forten started Penn School for freedman in 1862…Mitchelville, a freeman’s town established on Hilton Head Island in 1862…January 1, 1863, at Ft. Saxton the first public reading of the Emancipation Proclamation…Decoration Day is known today as Memorial Day started by freedman May 1, 1865, and so much more.
The Gullah Festival was established to honor and recreate the atmosphere of a celebration called, Decoration Day, now Memorial Day. It was started by freedmen at the end of the Civil War on May 1, 1865, in South Carolina during the Reconstruction Era. When the USCT – United Staes Colored Troops arrived in Charleston after the war and realized that their fallen comrades had not been given proper burial but had been placed in a mass grave, they dug up all 250 + bodies and reinterred them in individual graves decorated with wooden crosses, flowers, shells and flags. It took 2 weeks. They estimate over 10,000 participants in the first Decoration Day parade. That first celebration honored the dead with full military rites, speeches, horse races, and picnics. It soon became one of the largest celebrations in the nation and was moved to Beaufort National Cemetery and surrounding area.
For over 30 years, the Original Gullah Festival has provided unique family-friendly cultural experiences for our local, national and international attendees of over 35,000 plus during the 3-day event. This celebration continues the tradition of honoring those who fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the Union.
It has also contributed to the increase of heritage tourism in our county, making a positive financial impact to our local and state economy. We are asking you to join our family of supporters in making the Gullah Festival this year, an example for others to witness of a community coming together in unity to celebrate our shared unique rich history.
The Gullah Festival annually takes place every Memorial Day weekend. The 2017 festival is May 26-28 at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park located at 1010 Bay Street in Beaufort, South Carolina. The gates for the festival will open Friday (10am-8pm), Saturday (10am-7pm) and Sunday (2pm-7pm). Come shop for unique Gullah and Low Country treasures and experience authentic cuisine at The Gullah Marketplace daily during the festival from 10am to 11 pm.
For 31 years, the goal of the Gullah Festival is to reclaim for future generations the beauty and mystery of the disappearing Gullah Culture, a mix of West African legacy, Native American and African-American experience to help arts in Education, to provide scholarships to worthy students, and to foster a better understanding and appreciation for the culture. Highlights include consumer, educational, historical workshops, a fine arts exhibit, demonstrations and a potpourri of music and food for everyone. In previous years, the festival has been held at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park in the heart of the city of Beaufort, SC. Many tourists are consistently attracted to the festival from forty-two states and several countries including Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Canada, Australia, England, Germany, and Guadeloupe.
LODGING, AIR TRAVEL, GROUND TRANSPORTATION
New for 2017!! The Gullah Festival Travel Team can assist with individual and group travel. Click Here to Request Lodging, Air Travel & Ground Transportation Information
One day in 1985 five women gathered reminiscing about the days when the black community would celebrate Decoration Day in Beaufort, SC. Those women included: Mrs. Rosalie Pazant, her daughters Charlotte Pazant Brown, Lolita Pazant Harris and Reba Pazant and a family friend, Marlena McGhee. The ladies decided they should plan their own event in which they could keep that same old time flavor as Decoration Day while expanding on their ideas including incorporating entertainment they selected. They threw around several names and finally came up with a name representative of the area and decided to call their new venture “The Gullah Festival” Under the helm of Mrs. Pazant, their dream became a reality and the first year of the festival was 1986.
After the first year, Marlena McGhee a Co-Founder, moved on to begin her own entertainment group. Another Co-Founder, Lolita Pazant Harris passed in 1989. The three remaining Co-Founders are still working hard with many family and friends to make sure that the dream once started, remains alive. Pazanta Byars, the oldest granddaughter of Mrs. Rosalie Pazant, served as CEO & President of the Original Gullah Festival of South Carolina from 2013 to 2015, but reluctantly decided to resign her post in order to complete her EdD Doctoral degree in Education. Thomas Roy Hicks II, grandson of Mrs. Rosalie Pazant, is currently the Executive Director of the festival and is the new CEO & President of the Original Gullah Festival of South Carolina, the parent company of a conglomerate of fund raising events, educational activities, and cultural awareness efforts including the Gullah Festival, the Black Inventors Museum, Native American Heritage, Miss Gullah Teen Pageant, and the Brandyfoot Awards. Thomas Roy Hicks Jr. also manages the logistics that are instrumental in planning the festival’s three day event. Also, there are many volunteers who dedicate their time for a full weekend to make sure that the festival flows smoothly.
The festival has received the following recognition
Winner of the State Award 1990 & 1997
Top 20 Events in the Southeast May 1992, 1994, 1998
SC House of Representatives May 1993
SC Senate in 1997
Vision Magazine in 1997
Outstanding Festival by USA Congress in 1997
Awarded Top Ten Angels by S. Carolina Secretary of State
Recognized by the American Business Association in 1998
Bundy Award for Best Festival from the South Carolina Parks Recreation & Tourism 2003-04
The Original Gullah Festival encourages community involvement by inviting various school systems to learn the Gullah culture at the festival thereby increasing public awareness of Gullah contributions and Sea Island culture.
Inspired by the festival, James Clyburn introduced a Bill in which US Congress declared the coast of South Carolina and thirty miles inland a “Gullah Heritage Corridor.”We have achieved these accomplishments through Educational seminars, Historical Workshops, Fine Arts Exhibits, Historical Tours, and a Potpourri of Music and food for everyone.
The festival includes vendors, local, national, and international entertainment, shoppers, and loyal attendees. The vendors who come to the festival take pride in bringing outstanding wares and in setting up a market display that defies comparison. Many shoppers come to the festival for the sole purpose of browsing through the Vendors Market.
We have been honored with the attendance of royalty such as Mr. Godfrey Binaisi, former counsel to the Queen of England and Former President of Uganda; the great-grandson of Charles Frederick Gilpin, Dr. Jartue Gilpin, who traveled the Underground Railroad with Harriet Tubman and sculpted the head of this famous activist.
Previous Festival Headliners include the Marie Brooks Dancers; the famed R&B grammy-award winning group, the Manhattans; R&B Sensation Tony Terry; the Soweto Street Beat African Dancers from South Africa; Bernadette Stanis (Thelma of ‘Good Times’); singer James Brown; storyteller and National Heritage Award Winnner, Mama Yaa; and native son Johnathan Green (Internationally acclaimed artist).