March 31, 2021

Geechee World Order

by Resistance

Background show artwork for Resistance

In the low country of South Carolina the Gullah Geechee are engaged in a fight to preserve their land and determine their destiny.

Where to Listen


Announcer: Hey, just a warning before we get started. This episode of Resistance deals with some heavy themes and has some strong language in it. We'll get started right after this short break.


Saidu Tejan Thomas Jr.: So a few years ago I heard about this group of Black folks living in South Carolina in what's called the low country. Families who've have been there basically since slavery. And even though they were brought here in bondage, they've been able to create and maintain their own culture, their own language and, in a lot of cases, even their own land. Which is huge. They're called the Gullah Geechee, dope ass name. But the main reason I've been so interested in Gullah Geechee is because they have ancestral ties to Sierra Leone, which is where I'm from, Salone.

Saidu: Now I never actually set foot in the low country, I don't know much about it. But when I heard about them, I started fantasizing about what it could be like to be Gullah Geechee. I thought Gullah people probably just down there living in peace and harmony, they live off their land and, you know, just vibe?

Saidu: But then our producer Mack started telling me about what it's actually like. Mack is Gullah. Like, straight up, he lives in the community down in South Carolina right now. And he says for him, being Gullah Geechee these days means one thing: having to fight. Here's Mack.

Wallace Mack: Let me tell y'all what it's like where I'm from. I grew up across the street from a cotton gin and endless cotton fields. My dad worked at the gin for a while when I was in high school. I hated that. I remember I used to daydream about burning that shit down.

Mack: When the sun goes down here it gets dark. Not a lot of street lights, so the stars are always putting on a show. Spring tides are really cool though, because they bring the moon close as hell. It could be midnight, but it's so bright that you'd swear the sun was peeking from behind a curtain or something. It would be almost silent here if not for the sounds of crickets, frogs and cicadas, competing with each other to see who will be the next American Idol in the distance.

Mack: Before it rains here, you can taste the salt in the air. And when it rains, it floods. Most of our houses are trailers that sit on top of stacks of cinderblocks. And if it rains too much, prepare to be stuck at the house all day because the yard is so wet that you might bog down trying to leave. We call the mosquitoes here "birds." You've never seen bigger mosquitoes, I swear. And when the temperature does drop—which doesn't happen a lot—it's not simply "cold outside," we say "Ee col outchea!"

Mack: In high school, you had to have a fresh pair of forces to go out every Friday night after a football game. If you came and danced with a girl, y'all wasn't dancing, we call that "rockin' up." And if a bunch of people showed up, had a good time, a few shots got fired in the parking lot but nobody died, it wasn't "lit," that shit been "Jack, innit?"

Mack: Down here, we fish for our food. It's something my grandma taught us when we were very, very young. Her backyard is basically land where a swamp meets a creek. It was nothing to just go outside, catch something and come back and clean and cook it. Me and my big head cousins would grab fishing reels and buckets and head there every chance we got. And a meal is not a meal to us without rice. Red rice, white rice, perloo rice, it don't matter.

Mack: People gossip about the hoodoo ladies and the root workers, and the bootleggers who make the best corn liquor you ever had—no hangover guaranteed.

Mack: Down the street from my granny's, there's a dilapidating stone building. It's a coral green flat with a red door, a red roof and red letters that spell out it's name hand written in paint. "African Pride Club." When my daddy was growing up here, this is where people would come to hang out. Him and his siblings were on the African Pride baseball team, and the community would pile out to watch them play on Sundays. They never knew the name of the man who owned the club, they just called him The African Man.

Mack: I grew up in the dark about where these ways of being came from for a pretty long time. Like, if you walked up to my parents and asked them about being Geechee, they probably wouldn't entertain the conversation for long. It wasn't until this one assembly program in middle school that everything started to click. My school had invited this speaker. Her name was Queen Quet, the Chieftess and Head of State of the Gullah Geechee Nation. She took center stage, and told us that she was there on a mission to remind us who we were. I remember she talked a lot about rice and indigo. She talked about our accents. She told us that there was nothing wrong with them. She used the phrase "We be Gullah Geechee." She told us to remember that. We Be Gullah Geechee. That moment was huge for me. It was the first real time I'd heard that affirmed.

Mack: When I finished school, I left home and I moved away. But last year, I moved back. And what I've seen since I've been here is people engaged in a fight. It's a fight to preserve this place and to control its destiny, even as it's being ripped from up under us.

Mack: I'm Mack and this is Resistance, a show about refusing to accept things as they are. Refusing to let your land be stolen and your history be erased, 'cause you can't even much get where you going if you ain't know where you came from.

Mack: I unofficially moved back to the low country nine months ago. I say unofficial because I didn't plan it this way. I was only supposed to be here for, like, two weeks. But between 'rona and family stuff, trying to leave here wasn't nearly as easy as it was to get here. I made the decision to stay for good about a month ago. In the past few months, I've been able to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. New friends like my boy Josh. Josh is around the same age as me. He grew up spending the summers with his family out on land they own in a place called Sol Legare.

Josh: I always grew up coming to Sol Legare as a kid. I would come here and it's like going back in time almost, because our community is old time-y agricultural, fishing, farming community. So it has the aesthetic. It's beautiful.

Mack: Sol Lagare is a marsh island about an hour south of where I grew up, just off the mainland of the city of Charleston. From almost any POV, you can stand and look out across this neverending wetland that somehow touches the sky. The island is dotted with tiny houses.

Josh: So I always remember, you know, the old houses, little houses, really like almost—not slave dwellings because they were built after slavery, but they resembled them, some of them, because they're so—they're small and they were built in that era right after slavery. Right after slavery. So I mean, not knowing the history in particular at that age, but I still felt the history. I just felt—you could feel something. Like, I didn't know what it was. I was like—it feels—it just—whenever I—you know, I just feel something in the air. I don't know if it's the ancestors or spirits, I don't know what it is. But ever since I was a kid, I always just felt something. It was almost enchanted.

Mack: Josh can't shake the feeling that the spirit of his ancestors are still in this place because so many of them were here. Around 40 percent of all enslaved Africans brought to America during the height of Transatlantic slave trade were brought here through the port of Charleston. And here in Charleston—and throughout the low country—there was a demand for people brought from very specific places: Angola, Senegambia and Sierra Leone. Because they had the ability to work this land that was very similar to the land they were stolen from.

Josh: This is where most Black people lived, because this is where most Black people were enslaved at.

Mack: We were, like, literally brought here for our skill.

Josh: We were brought here because we knew how to grow rice. That shit ain't easy. You had to build irrigation systems. You had to understand tide, you had to architect all that. Rice is no joke. White folks didn't know how to plant rice. They didn't eat rice.

Mack: The tribal histories, languages, religions and cultures of all the people who were brought here blended together into a people that came to be known as the Gullah Geechee. After emancipation, many of these African people who had been enslaved in the area made a home on islands like Sol Legare, where they built communities and lived in a world of their own.

Josh: Sol Legere is one of the only agricultural Gullah communities that's still intact. Essentially, we're one of the only places that still looks like it would have looked when your grandparents lived here or your great grandparents lived here.

Mack: Josh's family has been living on Sol Legare for generations. He can trace this back to his great- great- great- great- great-grandfather, Harrison Wilder, who was enslaved in this area.

Josh: After he was liberated, he joined the Union army. He survived the war, and he moved to Sol Legare Island, and he bought land here in about the 1870s. And the land that he bought is the land that our family has been living on for the following—what—five or six generations. So it's what we call heirs' property, which means that when my ancestor originally bought the land, there was no deed or there was no will, so the land ended up being collectively owned by all of his heirs.

Mack: With heirs' property, if someone has five kids, and those five heirs have five kids, by time the original five heirs die there will be 25 owners of the land. As time goes by, that number continues to multiply, creating situations where there are sometimes hundreds of owners of a single piece of land.

Mack: Gullah Geechee families like Josh's lived on land that, for a long time, white people did not want. For various reasons: lack of roads, the ever-rising tides, and them Big Bird mosquitoes I told y'all bout. Settlers weren't built for no real shit like that. But the Gullah Geechee were. They didn't just make the best of these conditions, they made a home there. But the enchanted land that white people didn't want then—they want it now. A lot of the people who still live out on Sol Legare to this day are getting older, and the only real way to protect it from thirsty developers is to keep it in the family—heirs' property.

Josh: It's a gift and a curse because heirs' property on one side of the sword, it's hard, historically, it's kind of hard to sell it, it's hard to maintain it in a sense, because it's collectively owned and nobody has their own separate titles and deeds and stuff like that. Which is a good thing, because it kind of forces families to keep the land and build on it and live on it. But the bad part is also it's susceptible to being—you know, taxes rising and disorganization and swindlers and all that type of stuff. So it's a gift and a curse. And luckily, it's served us as a gift. You know, we still have it and we're still fighting to keep it.

Mack: For Josh's family out on Sol Legare, it's mostly been a blessing. But everybody hasn't been so lucky. Enslaved Africans in Charleston didn't just work on plantations. People were enslaved inside the city. Josh reminded me that when Charleston was built, damn near every brick in the city there was laid by an enslaved African person. After slavery, all of those folks didn't head to the islands. Some chose to stay in the city and work to buy land there. So heirs' property is not just a thing on the islands. Black land ownership was a thing in the city too. But as Charleston has grown into a major coastal city, developers have gotten diabolical about taking that land back.

Mack: If you got in a car and drove around the city of Charleston, it wouldn't take you long to realize that it looks like a place that's confused about its identity. You have plantations that are still standing. Plantations that white people go to get married, which is psychologically and spiritually very fucking weird.

Mack: You can be downtown, some place like East Bay Street, where Charleston's infamous architecture is still intact. You have all these pastel-colored homes stacked tightly next to each other at a place called Rainbow Row. Rainbow Row was once tenement housing for Black people, some who had come in from the islands. Now it's the darling of Charleston real estate developers.

Mack: You also have these areas that look like someone just dropped them here from outer space. Shiny apartment complexes built for the massive influx of transplants to the city: MUSC students and white people with the kind of generational wealth that allows them to move to cities that they aren't from and start dumb-ass businesses like infused CBD olive oil stores. And of course, Apple stores, Whole Foods and all the other things white people need when they move somewhere.

Mack: And then there are the few remaining places where Black people in the city have been forced: either the East Side, the projects or on the shrinking patches of heirs' property land in the city. That's where my boy Fez lives. A plot of land that's been in his family for generations.

Mack: Basically, just introduce yourself.

Fez: All right. My name's Fez Jacobs. 27 years old. Charleston, SC. Geechee. [laughs]

Mack: Tell us a little bit about where we at, and sort of the history of it.

Fez: All right. So we at my—currently the house that I live in now. My mama grew up in this house, and my granny had this house built, like, 60 years back or so. So, yeah, like, my entire family came up in this house. But on this particular stretch of road, Savage Road, my granny grew up on this road, and my great granny been up on this road. So all the same people here, including my family, been here for about over a hundred years.

Mack: So, like, what does that mean to you?

Fez: We got a lot of history, right, yo. Also kind of seeing it fade away. A lot of the elders that already died, because I know my Auntie Pipi, that been down the road, she died a few years back. And then there's Daisy. She died a while back ago. So yeah, the only elders left, like 80-plus years old is right here in front of me and then my ganny.

Mack: Fez knows what it's like to see land snatched up from under you. Compared to the amount of land that Josh's family has been able to retain, what Fez has been able to hold onto is much smaller. Where Josh's family can still roam acres upon acres of untouched land, you can look six feet from Fez's porch to see land that used to be in his family, but isn't anymore. It's still something though. More than what a lot of people have managed to keep.

Mack: How do you think y'all are able to sort of like resist the developers and, like, actually hold onto y'all shit?

Fez: We haven't. Like, on this neighborhood used to be—there used to be a lot more people here.

Mack: Yeah.

Fez: Like, this is like the remnants of what the community used to be. Like, a lot of people are being pushed out, like, in this neighborhood.

Mack: A lot of the people that Fez grew up with haven't been able to stay in the city of Charleston, period. Data shows that in 2016, Charleston started to average 10 evictions a day. That makes it the number one city in the country for evictions. Not New York, Not the Bay. Charleston. And it doesn't help that land developers have a new vision of Charleston, one that doesn't include people like us.

Fez: Like, them land developers will hound you down until you sell. I know up the road with that Walgreens, I know that church didn't sell. So there's a church that's just sitting in the Walgreens parking lot.

Mack: They're just like, "Fuck it. We just gonna build around you."

Fez: Exactly. Like, they'll build around you and make shit hard for you, because I have some cousins that have lived right there where that Walgreens was. But yeah, or, like, when you got heirs' property, they'll end up flipping, like, a family member, and they'll end up selling it from underneath, like, the whole family. Or eminent domain. Like, with the extension of some of these Interstates and stuff like that, they'll build it right through your neighborhood. Move everybody out. Yeah, so, like, even if you own shit, you don't own shit. They'll come and take it regardless. Like, you may think that you own it, but nah. The powers that be own it. Like, you're pretty much just on it until they decide that they want it back again. Yeah. Mm-hmm.

Mack: This kind of gentrification isn't just about bringing new people in, it's also about displacing people that had always been there. And it's violent.

Fez: A lot of people are homeless, and a lot of people don't got nowhere to go. Because I know that a lot of it is like, a lot of Geechee land being take. Yeah, like, that's a big thing as well. But, like, a lot of folk don't even got that, because it's like, people talk about like, yeah, like, the Gullah Geechee land and all this that, but also Gullah Geechee is in the project, Gullah Geechee is in the hood. Gullah Geechee is Section 8. Like, Gullah Geechee is food stamps, welfare and all that shit too.

Mack: And Gullah Geechee is also having to deal with the stigma that comes with those things. But out of all my friends, I definitely think Fez is the most proud to be Geechee. So much so that for years now, he's gone by the moniker Geechee Identity Extremist online. And I kinda love that, because growing up, Geechee wasn't always a descriptor people used positively.

Fez: When we were younger, it used to be, like, kind of a slur. Like, calling somebody "Geechee", like, n****s used to swing on that.

Mack: Fighting words.

Fez: Them was fighting words. Especially with the older folk, because I remember my uncle, my Uncle Ben from Kentucky, I remember he used to come down here and be like, "Yeah, y'all boy don't like to be called Geechee now." Like, so, yeah. So, like, I know, like, older folk that are like—that'll vibe better with Gullah. But, like, I know, like, us younger folk, we started getting more comfortable with Geechee, and started to embrace all that. Mm-hmm.

Mack: Growing up, I felt that. I think it's what drives so many people in my family and people that I know to not wanna identify as Geechee. As kids, we learned that it wasn't okay to be Geechee from adults. I remember being in school we'd take field trips, and we got the same speech everytime. Right before we got off the bus, they'd lay in. "Don't go in here talking bad!" That's how they phrased it, "talking bad." "Don't go in here talking bad, being loud and acting like y'all from out the woods!" What they call "talking bad" is really just what Gullah people call "crackin' teet’," which really means "to speak." It's just a way of talking. But this anti-Geechee sentiment is connected to an anti-African sentiment. It's tied up in stereotypes about being backward, lazy and unintelligent. And that anti-Geechee attitude isn't just in offhand comments on the school bus, it's in the curriculum.

Fez: Shit, most of us end up going to speech class and resource classes. I know I did. My little brother did. My cousins did. Like, pretty much had us damn near ESOL with the children that didn't know how to speak English. Yeah. They classified me as, like, a little, like, smart or whatever. But even then, I was still put into, like, supplemental classes, like speech and resource, especially for them to, like, teach me how to talk correctly. Whatever "correctly" mean—yeah, the air quote "correctly." So, yeah, I didn't even know why I was in there. I don't even think my parents knew why I was in there. The teachers just said that I needed to be in speech class. So we been in speech class. So yeah, that experience is common for a lot of children. Like, say for reading, for example, the children will know what they reading, but they'll say it out, like, in our accent, in our dialect, in our type of language.

Mack: And is that what it was like for you?

Fez: Yeah. So we'll know what we're reading, but we say it how we talking. But the teacher doesn't pick up on that. So that kind of—so grades are lower. So, like, there's a whole lot of miscommunication right there. So I know the school board wanted to bring in, like, dedicated ESOL teachers just for Geechee children. Yeah.

Mack: In Charleston.

Fez: In Charleston. Mm-hmm. It wasn't until we got—until I got older they were just like, oh, they really actively trying to teach our culture out of us.

Mack: I didn't grow up around a lot people with the kind of pride Fez has. But in the past few years, I've been watching a real movement of Geechee pride growing. They tried to teach the culture out of us, but apparently it ain't work. After the break, Imma introduce you to a new symbol of the struggle that has emerged— a flag. And next to the flag, a new generation of Geechee people trying to reclaim their history in order to build a nation, and the generation that gave us the blueprint.

Mack: Since I got back to South Carolina, I've been moving with this group out here called the Lowcountry Action Committee. And part of what we've been doing is trying to build relationships with other groups focused on a united Black front in Charleston and across the low country. There's all kinds of groups out here, from community led mutual aid groups, to the Nation of Islam to Charleston Black Lives Matter. All these different people trying to fight for our people's right to exist here. And one of those groups is a duo known as The Geechee Experience. But to people in Charleston, they just Chris and Akua. Their main focus is spreading the culture and letting people know we're still here.

Mack: Recently, they revealed a flag. A flag they say is meant to represent all Geechee people, wherever they are. So let me describe this flag for you. It's a flag with three horizontal stripes. The first one is black, representing the people. The one in the middle is blue, for protection and water. The one on the bottom is green, for the land. There's a crab shell in the middle of the blue stripe, for self-preservation, our right to protect ourselves and our cultural heritage.

Mack: Chris and Akua told me that people really only bring up crabs to do that old tired-ass "crabs in barrel" thing. Nobody ever considers how crabs work together, especially in unnatural environments like a barrel. There's a spear going through the middle of the crab shell, representing the history of the Gullah Wars, wars we fought alongside the Indigenous people of this land. Curved around both sides of the shell and spear there's a generic-looking crop, a reminder of why we were brought here: our skills and our knowledge.

Mack: What do you think the presence of a flag like that, with the whole process that went into it and the thought that went into it, how do you think that would have affected you differently growing up?

Fez: It would've gave us something to, like, guess, to gravitate around as, like, a source of, like, you know, cultural pride and shit like that. Something that, like—that the teachers can't quote unquote "educate" out of us.

Mack: Mm-hmm.

Fez: Mm-hmm.

Mack: That flag is there. It don't matter what you talking about.

Fez: We got our flag. Like, we got a symbol of who we is as a people.

Mack: Right in the middle of the flag there's a black upside down triangle, that bleeds from the black stripe into the blue and green ones. It's a feature that calls back to our past, and makes a proclamation for the future. It's a feature that gives me and Fez real hype.

Fez: That shit was hard. That was hard. I would have never thought of nothing like that.

Mack: That triangle represents an idea that's whispered about a lot in the Black community, but hasn't been mainstream in decades: self-determination.

Mack: But I realize that everybody got different definitions of self-determination, right? And when you see self determination on that flag, like, what comes to mind for you?

Fez: Ah, shit. Well, I'm a Communist, so ...

Mack: Word. It is what it is.

Fez: Yeah, self-determination. The capitalist relations to the land is—we need to upend that, because our people as a whole has been communal. So, like, even the land that we've been on, it was communal land. Like, our people used to help each other build houses. We used to, like, farm and provide food to each other. Like, that was inherent in our ancestors. But the fight for self-determination is still an ongoing thing. It can't be seen as a thing that our ancestors did in the past. This is an ongoing fight to liberate ourselves from this exploitative system.

Mack: Right.

Fez: Mm-hmm.

Mack: When I hear the word "self-determination," I think about our right to control our destinies. And I don't believe we can ever be free people while we're beholden to the US. So we have to build our own nation, right here on this land. And what comes with a nation, is the right to self-governance. The right to create our own economies and trade freely with the rest of the world. And the right to create our own political and social structures that exist independent of the capitalist and imperialist goals of the United States. After all, we didn't ask to be here. Self-determination is about the right to autonomy.

Mack: As a people, we have lots of different ideas about what that road to self-determination actually looks like, and there are many people already fighting for change the best way we know how. Like the Lowcountry Action Committee, the group I'm in with Josh.

Mack: We're focused on using mutual aid to build community with our people and get folks thinking about what a people's budget in the city of Charleston could do. We're advocating for a concept called community control, which includes community control of the police. It's an idea that was introduced by the Black Panther Party in 1969, and it shouldn't be confused with police review boards or what we've come to know as "community policing." We aren't interested in more Black cops or body cams. We're trying to take power away from those kinds of institutions altogether.

Josh: One of our best paths forward is to try to democratize all of these institutions and get people into power to make the changes they want to make on the most grassroots level. You know, for people to have that power. That's why we emphasize community control, community control of the police, community control of the budget, community control of the land. Like, so that to us, that's the step towards solving, like, most of our biggest contradictions.

Mack: Josh has such a clear vision of this, because where he's from, this idea has firmly planted roots. And he took me to see it for myself. Sol Legare, that enchanted place where his family has been for generations. On the way there, we turned down this small street called Mosquito Beach Road. There's a sign at the head of the road that says, "The Gullah People Welcome You." You go around this curve and the sky starts to open up.

Mack: All right. So this is called Mosquito Beach.

Hosie: This is Mosquito Beach. We used to all come down here. They had cars coming from all over down here. We had a boardwalk on that side over there.

Ernest: A pavilion.

Hosie: A pavilion on that side. And then a big platform. Everybody was dancing, and it was like a house over there on the water.

Ernest: Yes, Lord.

Mack: These are Josh's uncles, Ernest and Hosie, and their chemistry is undeniable. Hosie is the older brother by, like, 10 years, but Ernest has an air about him that makes it seem like their roles are reversed. It's like if Marlon was older than Shawn on the Wayans Brothers. They both grew up here. In their teens and early 20s, they could look across the marsh and see a beach town called Folly Beach. But they couldn't go there, because Folly Beach was whites only. They didn't really care, though, because right here where we're standing, they had their own thing, Mosquito Beach. Mosquito Beach isn't technically a beach, not in the traditional sense. You gotta swap out sand for marshland and switchgrass. But Mosquito Beach was 10 times more poppin' than Folly Beach could ever be.

Ernest: And boy, they used to party hard, too. Boy, this party's throwing down!

Mack: They said you used to have James—they said you had James Brown out here.

Ernest: We had Fats Domino. They come down here.

Hosie: This was a Black Coney Island.

Ernest: Yeah, exactly. You can say it like that.

Hosie: Well, you might know nothing about Coney Island neither.

Mack: No, I just moved back from New York.

Ernest: He'd know Coney Island then, if went to—if he's in New York.

Hosie: What part of New York?

Mack: I was in Brooklyn.

Hosie: Brooklyn! Oh shit, if you don't know where Coney Island is, you need to go back. If you don't know where Coney Island is, goddamn, man!

Mack: If a fight broke out on Mosquito Beach, they broke it up. If you got too drunk to get home, somebody from the community took you. They cleared the land, they laid the foundations, built the buildings, and played the role of security on nights when things got out of hand. Community control.

Mack: Not far from Mosquito Beach is the Seashore Farmers' Lodge. This was the center of life on the island. The Lodge is this huge, two-story building painted white with pastel green shutters. It has a wraparound porch and an outhouse in the back. The residents of Sol Legare built it themselves with their hands in 1915.

Mack: Back in the day, the top floor of the Lodge is where members did business. The door remained shut at all times, but there's a small circular peephole at the top of the door where the community could drop off money. And that money went into a pot, available for everyone in the community to use.

Ernest: Well, we were our own money. We were our own bank.

Mack: Got it.

Ernest: The lodge would give the community members anything they want, but you had to pay your dues. Nickel, dime, penny, quarter, dollar. Five dollars? You rich if you had five dollars. Yeah, you were rich.

Mack: Different times.

Ernest: Yeah, different times, man. You know? Now if you had that money like that, come on in. And it would grow and they would give you seed, gave you money to pay your taxes, the whole nine yards.

Mack: Sol Legare's economy was based on agriculture, and agriculture means farming, which means you need insurance for your crops. But insurance companies weren't doing business with Black folks on the island. So they did that for themselves.

Ernest: The lodge was everything. The lodge was the church, the lodge was the school, the lodge was the party house. The lodge was where the buries—where the families stayed in the wake with the dead bodies. At one point in time, Wallace, you could come down here on Sol Legare and it was self-contained. You didn't have to leave. You had the church, we called it beauty chapel. We had seafood, we had Bubba Wallace store—Bubba Richardson's store. We had Bubba Pinckney's store, we had Mosquito Beach for entertainment, we had a school.

Mack: Uh-huh. It was a self-sustaining ...

Ernest: Self-sustaining. That's what it's about. Self-sufficiency. That's what the lodge represented. We ain't have no million dollars to loan somebody to build a house, but we had what we had in order to help you build your house. And we had our own nickels, our own dimes, our own pennies, our own quarters, our own dollars. We had those things ourselves, and we'll give it you, we'd loan it to you. But you make sure you pay your dues now.

Mack: They created their own world, their own economy. A people's budget. The lodge is a sacred relic from a time when Geechee people had at least some control over the way they lived. How they ate, how they spoke, how they taught their youth, how they handled conflicts and disputes. There wasn't no Sol Legare Police Department. The community was organized to protect itself and the people in it. They lived off the land. Everything you ate, you or someone you know grew it or caught it or killed it. It was a communal way of life, isolated from a lot of the racist violence that was happening in the world outside. Shit, until the '60s only a few people on the island even had telephones.

Ernest: And it kind of to a great degree, it overprotected us. It overprotected us.

Mack: What do you mean by that?

Ernest: I mean, we were taken away from the outside world, so to speak. Some of the stuff that was going on with segregation and hatred of Negroes and stuff like that, it wasn't a part of us. It wasn't in us.

Mack: Because y'all was out here by yourselves.

Ernest: We was here by ourselves.

Mack: Yeah.

Ernest: You know, we were here by ourselves. So we didn't know what it was like 'til you got out there in the outside world to see what was going on. Well, what happened? Y'all went out and started getting big time. Y'all go away to New York City, and y'all go away to college and get educated and come back and slowly wane. The Black migration from the South to the North, it deteriorated us.

Mack: The one-two punch of the Great Migration and then integration created pathways for Black kids on the islands to go into white schools on the mainland. Ernest told me he hated those schools. And more, Ernest told me hates what even that small window out did to the spirit of the community.

Ernest: And after a while, the building kind of went into despair. We didn't have these—we didn't have the force from the young people anymore, and the older generation started dying off. And then the storms hit and the building deteriorated. The society wasn't as strong as it was.

Mack: I'm not gonna lie, I definitely caught some strays there. I went to college, I got educated and then I went to New York. And I'm not trying to defend myself, but there's a reason why that still happens. And it's because of lack of opportunity. That's what you do in the low country. If you're lucky, you get out. But I decided to come back.

Mack: I made a decision recently to move home because for me, after leaving, I realized that there's no place like it. The low country is where I want to start a family. It's where I want to build community. It's in my bones, and no amount of running could keep me from it. And in being here, I'm seeing how much things are changing, and I want to be a part of the fight to preserve the magic our people made here.

Mack: So much of what Gullah Geechee people have done to this point, has been about self-sufficiency. But the new generation of Geechees, we're trying to take it a step further into self-determination. Our elders might not use words like "anti-capitalism" or "sovereignty," but it's not the language that matters. When they speak to us about what must be done, the general idea is the same: they want us to fight.

Ernest: Our fight right now, Wallace, our fight right now is to preserve this Gullah Geechee community.

Mack: Right.

Ernest: That's the fight right now.

Mack: Fight for the land.

Ernest: Fight for the land, because they're coming in waves and they're taking it over. So if we don't protect it and get a hold of it, like, right now, it's gonna be going away, this culture, this small culture, but it's the last bastion of a Gullah Geechee neighborhood.

Mack: Sol Legare is a wonder. To be able to see this community, built by the hands of people who didn't ask to be here, but made the most out of the cards they were dealt, you just have to see it with your own eyes to understand why we'll never give this up. You'd have to see the huge white oaks off in the distance, covered in spanish moss, draping down like the trees' branches are rocking a chain. You'd have to look out from Mr. Ernest's deck and see this road in the middle of the swamp that one of Josh's ancestors started building.

Mack: Envision a Black man, wading through the water, scooping mud and laying it before his feet. Literally constructing a road as he goes. He never quite finished, it's still a project in the making. You'd have to take a walk in Mr. Hosie's backyard. A yard that stretches for acres and acres into nowhere. And then think about those acres in context with the other 12,000 square miles that make up the Gullah Geechee corridor. Right now, we have a flag. I can't wait for the day we can finally plant it.

Mack: Thanks for listening. I want to dedicate this episode of Resistance to the life and legacy of Muhiyidin D'Baha, a prominent Charleston activist who was killed in 2018. The streets ain't forget you, bruh.

Saidu: That was Mack. Resistance is produced by Wallace Mack, Bethel Habte and Aaron Randle, and hosted by me, Saidu Tejan Thomas Jr.

Saidu: Our production assistant is Navani Otero. Our supervising producer is Sarah McVeigh. We were edited by Lynn Levy, Lydia Polgreen, Brendan Klinkenberg and Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders. That y'all so much.

Saidu: Mixing, scoring, and magic by Catherine Anderson. Additional scoring and theme by Bobby Lord. Our music supervisor is Liz Fulton. Original compositions by Drea the Vibe Dealer and Tah-jee Mack.

Saidu: Fact checking is by Isabel Cristo. Thank you so much for everything you've done, Isabel. We really appreciate you.

Saidu: Our show art is by Darien Birks of The Stuyvesants. Credits music is "Ack a Donkey" by Ogee. Mack told me this is the Geechee national anthem and I can see why it goes in. Special thanks to Chris and Akua from Geechee Experience.

Saidu: If you enjoyed this episode, tell a friend about it. You can find me on Twitter at @saiduttj. You can follow us on IG @resistancepodcast.

Saidu: Resistance is a Spotify original podcast and Gimlet production. All right, see y'all in 2 weeks.