Transcript for Preserving Gullah Geechee culture
- And we want to turn now to this rich tradition we've talked about here on the show before many Americans know a little about. Not too long ago, it was ABC'S Kenneth Moton. He introduced us here to the Gullah tradition of basket weaving.
- And now he is back with more on how the Gullah Geechee culture has evolved in America from past to present.
KENNETH MOTON: Along the Atlantic coast in the South, that Gullah Geechee spirit.
- (SINGING) Oh, when I get there, joy, joy.
KENNETH MOTON: And there's no ambassador quite like 80-year-old Mary Rivers LeGree of St. Helena Island in South Carolina.
- This was not widely known that there was something special about our culture.
KENNETH MOTON: Gullah Geechee, African-American descendants of enslaved mostly West Africans who were forced to work the rice, indigo, and sea island cotton plantations on the Southeastern coast. A vibrant, rich culture with deep African roots was born, along with a way to communicate, a unique English-based Creolo language called Gullah.
- Where hana from? Where hana from? Where are you from? Your eye is too long. Your eye-- your eye is too long. That means you're greedy. You want-- you see a lot, and you want to try to eat up everything.
- My eye is very long.
KENNETH MOTON: Oh, the food, Southern, well-seasoned favors like shrimp and grits, okra, and red rice, all original Gullah dishes. And that influence on art, generations of Gullah basket weavers and their signature sweet grass baskets. Today, an estimated 1 million Gullah people live in this area Congress designated the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
- To be able to protect, to preserve it, sustain it, lift up the people.
KENNETH MOTON: We spoke with the corridor's Executive Director Victoria Smalls in Buford, outside the Robert Smalls House, no relation to the Civil War hero for the Union and one of the first African-Americans to serve in Congress.
- He is Gullah statesman, I like to call him.
KENNETH MOTON: Robert Smalls purchased this property where he was born a slave, advocating for Black land ownership.
- My ancestors, Adam and Betsy Smalls, also purchased land during that time. And we still own 20 acres of the land that was purchased. And it is empowering because we can sustain ourselves as a family. We can grow crops on it.
- Why is the Gullah culture more important now today than ever?
- More people are feeling a greater sense of pride about being Gullah and Geechee. When I was growing up in the '70s, people would call you Geechee, and they were sort of fighting words.
KENNETH MOTON: But then a change.
- (SINGING) Let's all go to Gullah Gullah Island. Gullah Gullah!
KENNETH MOTON: Many crediting this first-of-its-kind '90s children's show on Nickelodeon, Gullah Gullah Island.
- Happy birthday, Shayna.
- (SINGING) Happy Birthday, Shayna.
KENNETH MOTON: Creator now-TV executive Maria Perez-Brown featured Ron and Natalie Daise and their actual children, highlighting their Gullah backgrounds on St. Helena.
- It was this richness in this purity to the culture that it had not, in any way-- we didn't want to go there and exploit the culture and say, do it like this because it's going to work for camera. And we had ambassadors, right? Ron and Natalie opened those doors for us.
KENNETH MOTON: 25 years later, Perez-Brown says there's still not enough TV content that reflects children of color, but there are more images of the Gullah people.
- Between the art and some of the movies and some of the shows that happened since we did ours, I feel that they have had an opportunity to capture that culture.
- Are you more inspired today than you were in the '90s when it comes to this type of programming?
- I see the responsibility that we have as creators of color of television and content in any platform to make sure that our kids have images that look like them.
KENNETH MOTON: On the Sea Island--
- I'm sweeping or I'm cleaning like I was trying to work on the floor.
KENNETH MOTON: --LeGree is the caretaker of one of three Gullah praise houses left in the area, built as a gathering place for the enslaved. Concerned Gullah Geechee traditions will fade away among younger generations--
You want this to be a source of inspiration.
- Yes, a source of inspiration and to pique their memory.
KENNETH MOTON: The Gullah elder saying she'll keep working to educate and preserve a culture that helped build a nation. Kenneth Moton, ABC News, Buford County, South Carolina.
- Preservation and representation, so important. And that is just such a special part of the country. That's where I got my reporting beginning. And it's just so incredible to see what they're doing there. All right, Kenneth, thank you for that.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.