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Victoria Smalls

Gullah Geechee heritage organization moves to downtown Beaufort 

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 By Tony Kukulich 

The staff of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor National Heritage Area (GGCHC) has been busy managing several important events this spring that will have a positive impact on the long-term operation of the organization. 

On March 15, President Biden signed H.R. 2471, a $1.5 trillion federal omnibus spending bill that fully funds federal government projects and activities through Sept. 30, 2022. The bill provides a grant of $500,000 for 2022 and 2023 to the GGCHC. The grant is funded through the National Park Service’s National Heritage Areas (NHA) program. 

“We’re really happy about that,” said GGCHC Executive Director Victoria Smalls. “But also, what is important is that it is a matching grant. We have to find a match for that. That is one of the reasons I was brought on as executive director – to help with that process.” 

A press release issued by the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, the body that oversees the work of the GGCHC, stated that the grant will support cultural and historic preservation, educational projects and programs, natural resource conservation, land workshops, heritage tourism and additional initiatives outlined in the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor’s Management Plan. 

In addition to the news regarding funding, GGCHC has relocated its operations to The Aresenal in the City of Beaufort. 

“We haven’t decided when our grand opening is, but that’s where we have relocated our office from John’s Island to this historic site within the Beaufort National Historic Landmark District,” Smalls said. 

“We’re going to have a big celebration regarding it. We want to make sure we invite the people that were very instrumental in forming the corridor well before 2006.” 

The organization originally selected John’s Island as its home because the first executive director lived there and was able to secure office space there, Smalls said. The move to Beaufort was made in cooperation with the Greater Beaufort-Port Royal Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). 

“It was suggested that we could move the office to Beaufort to help build upon our heritage tourism initiatives,” Smalls explained. “Beaufort is also my hometown, so it’s a perfect fit for me. I had no arguments about that, but I can’t really say the decision was centered on me. The CVB has been wonderful and played a vital role in having us move.” 

Smalls called the move a strategic effort to engage tourists, visitors and the Gullah Geechee community with other nearby historic sites like the Beaufort History Museum, the Reconstruction Era National Park and the Robert Smalls House. 

“One of the things I feel is really important is the partnership with the greater National Park Service. We are a National Heritage Area, and that’s a program within the National Park Service. What better park to be within than the National Reconstruction Era National Historical Park because we’re talking about the history of formerly enslaved people and how they were able to build towns and opportunities for education and land ownership.” 

Chris Barr, interpretive supervisor/public information officer with the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, also spoke of the synergy between the two organizations. 

“It’s impossible to tell the story of Reconstruction in the Lowcountry without centering the experiences of the Gullah people who lived here,” Barr said. “This included not just famous figures and leaders, but average citizens who kept their Gullah heritage alive while navigating through the process of emancipation during Reconstruction. We’re excited to work with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to help share these Americans’ stories to a wider audience. Already, we’ve hosted a number of joint programs with the Corridor, and we look forward to continuing this.” 

The purpose of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor NHA is to preserve, share and interpret the history, traditional cultural practices, heritage sites, and natural resources associated with Gullah Geechee people of coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. For more information, visit: www. gullahgecheecorridor.org. 

Tony Kukulich is a recent transplant to the Lowcountry. A native of Wilmington, Del., he comes to The Island News from the San Francisco Bay Area where he spent seven years as a reporter and photographer for several publications. He can be reached at tony.theislandnews@gmail.com. 

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