The 2018 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 2018 festival is May 25-27 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.