“Gullah Culture in America”

02 Jan

Veteran writer Wilbur Cross tells the little-known story of an enduring people and their heritage in a new paperback edition of Gullah Culture in America

Historian Joseph Opala knew he had made a remarkable discovery. It was 2004, fifteen years after he had helped to organize the first Gullah Homecoming based on links he had found between Gullah people in the United States and their ancestors in Sierra Leone. But now, Opala could trace an unbroken trail of documents for an African American family beginning with Priscilla, a 10-year-old girl brought to America from Sierra Leone 250 years ago, and ending with her direct descendant, a Charleston resident named Thomalind Martin Polite.

“Priscilla’s Homecoming,” the journey Polite subsequently led to Sierra Leone, is where writer Wilbur Cross begins Gullah Culture in America. Now available in paperback, Gullah Culturepresents an extensive record of the fascinating, yet too often overlooked, enclaves of African American descendants of slaves in South Carolina and Georgia. Though these

The Sea Islands

The Sea Islands

communities existed long before the Revolution, they remained largely hidden until the 1860s, when missionaries from Philadelphia founded Penn School to help freed slaves learn to read and write. Cross describes in great detail how, due to this long-term isolation, the Gullah were able to preserve the ancient traditions of their African ancestors.

Having lived on Hilton Head Island for a number of years, Cross has had the opportunity to learn first-hand about his Gullah neighbors. His deep respect for their culture and traditions is evident, and he incorporates his many interviews with members of the Gullah community into his text, frequently opting to let them tell the story of their people in their own words.

Originally published by Praeger in 2007, Gullah Culture in America provides not only a detailed history of the Gullah, but also a context for understanding what it means to “grow up Gullah.” In twelve colorful, engaging chapters, Cross introduces readers to all aspects of Gullah culture, including language, religion, food, music, and dance. He also provides insight into issues facing the more than 300,000 members of Gullah communities today, including the double-edged effects of modernization and assimilation, and the difficulties and triumphs of preserving the culture in the present day.


Wilbur Cross is the author or co-author of more than 50 books on a wide range of subjects. He received a degree from Yale University, and after overseas military service, started his career as a copywriter in a New York City advertising firm. He was an editor at Time Inc. for ten years, and is a member of the Authors Guild and Time/Life Alumni Society. He lives on Hilton Head Island, SC.

John F. Blair, Publisher, has been publishing books on the southeastern United States since 1954. Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., this independent, family-owned company specializes in history, travel, folklore, biography, and fiction. Learn more at

Gullah Culture in America
By Wilbur Cross
Foreword by Emory Shaw Campbell

John F. Blair, Publisher
$16.95 paperback
6 x 9
288 pages
February 2012
Cultural Heritage, Educational, Historical

Gullah Culture in America begins with the journeys of 15 Gullah speakers who went to Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa in 1989, 1998, and 2005 to trace their origins and history. Their stories frame this fascinating look at the extraordinary history of the Gullah culture.

The existence of the Gullahs went almost unnoticed until the 1860s, when missionaries from Philadelphia made their way to St. Helena Island, South Carolina, to establish the Penn School to help freed slaves learn to read and write. There, they discovered hidden pockets of a bygone African culture with its own language, traditions, medicine, weaving, and art.

Today, more than 300,000 Gullah people live in the remote areas of the sea islands of St. Helena, Edisto, Coosay, Ossabaw, Sapelo, Daufuski, and Cumberland, their way of life endangered by overdevelopment in an increasingly popular tourist destination. Having evolved from the original Penn School, the Penn Center, based on St. Helena Island, works to preserve and document the Gullah and Geeche cultures.

Author Wilbur Cross originally set out to make the excellent work of the Penn Center known and to introduce the Gullah culture to people in America. He became entranced with the Gullah way of life and ended up with 12 chapters that explore the various facets of Gullah culture. Gullah Culture in America not only explores the history of Gullah but also shows readers what it’s like to grow up and live in this unique American community.

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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Books


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