America celebrates Black History Month in February, and we do, too, on Hilton Head with a slightly different spin. The 23rd annual Gullah Celebration commemorates the 250-year history of the Gullah culture on the island with 29 days of events, programs, lectures, storytelling, music and dance, art exhibitions and food.
Ever since the emancipation of slaves by Union forces in the early stages of the Civil War and the establishment of Mitchelville in 1862 on the island's north end, self-governance and self-reliance has become the Gullah life doctrine.
The festival kicks off Jan. 31, with an opening party for the "Arts Ob We People" exhibit of original works by Gullah artists. The event will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Art League of Hilton Head Gallery, 14 Shelter Cove Lane.
The First African Baptist Church, the island's oldest, will host Family Night Program on Feb. 5 for an hour and a half of traditional and contemporary Gullah songs and a of sampling of native islander food.
Other notable events scheduled are:
- National Freedom Day, historic Cherry Hill School, Feb. 2. A tour highlights the daily life of freed slaves at Mitchelville.
- Traditional Gullah Breakfast, Cherry Hill School, Feb. 2. Home cooking is on the menu coordinated by ooman (African for "woman") chef Louise Cohen.
- Sweetheart Ball, The Northridge Club, Feb. 9. The band Stee & Ear Candy will keep guests dancing and a Lowcountry food buffet will tempt palates with delicious goodies.
- Taste of Gullah, Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, Feb. 9. Gullah dishes such as okra gumbo, conch stew and ribs are on the menu as is a slate of dancers, musicians and storytellers.
- The Gullah Market: An Arts, Crafts and Food Expo, Honey Horn, Feb. 16. The Gullah culture comes to life with demonstrations, arts and crafts, food samplings, storytelling, song and dance most of the day.
- Music Series, Feb. 28, Central Oak Grove Baptist Church. The closing program of the five-part sequence will feature three local choirs in a musical spiritual journey.
For more information, visit gullahcelebration.com or call 843-255-7303.
Lowcountry resident Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.