Tourism is one of three of the largest economic engines in Glynn County Georgia, yet lacks the prominent presence of authentic African American/Gullah Geechee voices although the culture, spiritual practices and food ways are said to be the main attraction. Although the need of for diversity and economic equity is present, many African Americans in the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor are not steered in the directions of embracing and benefiting from a rich culture that belongs to their many generations to come.
The story of the Gullah Geechee culture is so vast that one could not possibly be able to tell nor know all that there is about it. After the Civil War, Special Field Order Number 15 was granted to newly emancipated people, designating the barrier islands beginning from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida and 35-miles inland to be inhabited and cultivated by the indigenous, formerly enslaved, and the already declared free. This order was honored until the Redemption period of 1877 when former slave owners began to reclaim their property turning many of the sprawling plantations into exclusive clubhouses and vacation resorts.
The goal of Heritage Works is to provide a 3-track career readiness 9-week program that educates and influences African American Gullah Geechee descendants to impacts the tourism/hospitality sector through historic interpretation/docent training, culinary arts, and architectural rehabilitation with a focus on entrepreneurship. These three mediums will offer a variety of opportunities for participants to discover the possibilities that are availability when one discoveries who they are in their individual and collective communities. This program offers practical skills that can be used to create their own source of income to become self-sufficient and self-reliant (kugichagulia).
Helen Ladson is a historic preservationist, cultural consultant, lecturer, and researcher who has dedicated her time and attention to the “TRUTHS” of the Elders, activists, and griots of Coastal Georgia. It is through both listening and studying that she realized that the field of culture is so vast, yet the laborers were few. She also realized that because the culture continues to evolve, there must be a safe space for all types of cultural preservation to ensure that the circle remains unbroken. It was her experiences as a docent that inspired her to create Heritage Works, a program that catered to Gullah Geechee descendants who remain in their city due to life choices. She wanted to offer an opportunity to others who needed a creative way to get involved in their respective communities through the inspiration of genealogy and history while providing a source of economic stimulus individually and collectively.
“After 100 years, the Gullah Geechee culture is again all the rage now. We’ve never gone anywhere. We’ve been tilling, singing, creating, and living both near and abroad. If the story must be told, a Gullah Geechee must tell it!” - Helen R. Ladson
2021: Fresh from her first political effort in Brunswick mayoral campaign, Helen Ladson considered options for bettering her community. She wanted to tap into a wide range of artistic, technical, and leadership skills she knew her fellow citizens had - but to do so in an intentional and communal way. The concept of Drapetomania - the laughable idea that African American reaped benefits from years of slavery endured - came to her attention as one that spoke to many Brunswick citizens. Drapetomania could be said to mean the misapprehension of the Black community by the white community.
Held in April in Brunswick, the first Drapetomania conference brought together church leaders, local farmers, researchers from the University of Georgia, experienced community leaders from outside Brunswick, and educators, both black and white. Participants shared ideas for uniting the community behind a vision of a sustainable, green future where skilled jobs led to stable, fulfilling lives. Planning committees for a Youth Writing Conference and DrapeCon2023 were formed.
June 17 - June 19, 2023 in Brunswick, Georgia