Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 244
Publication Date: 1940
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A collection of oral folklore from coastal Georgia which was assembled during the 1930s. The accounts in this book, framed by colorful descriptions of the rural locales where they were collected, were principally from elderly African-Americans, some of them centarians. Most had been slaves. In some cases they had known first generation slaves who had been born in Africa. Do not be put off by the use of phonetic dialect spelling. This is not being used here to belittle the speakers or cast them as ignorant. Rather, this book is scrupulously non-judgmental. This is simply how oral accounts were transcribed before there were portable tape recorders or camcorders.
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The African Negro, introduced as a slave into Virginia in 1619, had been a part of the plantation life of the older colonies of America for more than a century before the Colony of Georgia was founded in 1733. Almost two decades passed before the Trustees of Georgia legalized Negro slavery. Thus it was the middle of the eighteenth century before Georgia became an open market for slaves.
By this time certain land restrictions had been removed and the consequent development of large plantations, for which the Negro was an economic necessity, greatly stimulated the slave market. During these early years the plantations that developed in the tidewater regions of coastal Georgia planted principally rice, a wet culture necessitating a high percentage of Negro laborers. Later, as additional acres of adjoining higher ground were planted in sugar cane and cotton, the demand for slaves persisted. For more than a hundred years (1750-1858) this demand steadily increased, and it was the common habit to dump from 300 to 400 "prime Africans" on the Savannah market. Under these conditions Georgia, and more particularly the coastal region, was being supplied with Africans when much of older America was already sufficiently supplied or oversupplied with native born slaves bred for the domestic trade. Thus in many regions the long period of white contact was beginning to obscure tribal customs when Africans were being brought in great numbers to Georgia soil.
Although in 1798 the Georgia Constitution prohibited slave importation directly from Africa and in 1808 the Federal Constitution made the African slave trade unlawful, the favorable topography of the Georgia coast encouraged smuggling. The tidewater coastline and large navigable rivers penetrating for miles into the interior facilitated the landing of cargo. Consequently illegal slave traffic flourished in this region until 1858, when the slave ship Wanderer landed its cargo on Georgia soil.
Newspaper advertisements indicate that a large proportion of these early cargoes came from the Gambia River and Niger River sections; later the coast from the Congo River to the southern end of Portuguese West Africa was the base of operation. Accounts of various explorers' travels through Africa at that time, however, indicate that native traders frequently collected their slave cargoes from interior sections and shipped them from the west coast of Africa. Although to the white man, Negroes of an average cargo might have seemed similar in type, it is possible that in many instances they were brought from widely separated regions.
The coastal Negroes of Georgia are sometimes called Gullahs, although in general parlance the term is applied only to the Negroes of coastal South Carolina. Because of the similarity in type and speech, however, it is sometimes loosely extended to include the Georgia coastal Negroes as well. The place name, Geechee, derived from Ogeechee River, near Savannah, is also used locally to designate the Negroes of this district.
The coastal plantations that absorbed the slave traffic were remote from one another. The jungle swamps of the low country and the wide expanses of water separating the coastal islands made communication difficult among the plantation laborers of this section. With the continued arrival of Africans to these isolated plantation communities, native ceremonies and customs were renewed or exchanged. This continuous exchange and renewal of folk customs intensified the folk urge fostered by isolation. This naturally delayed the intrusion of white culture and the Negro kept intact much of his racial heritage. For these reasons the student of Negro folklore turns to coastal Georgia for source material. Here he may still find living Negroes who remember parents or grandparents born in Africa.
Much research has been done and many books written on the folk customs and beliefs of the Negro. In this section, however, where the Negro has been kept more or less racially distinct the field is so rich that intensified study in special areas still reveals valuable information.
In an effort to present an accurate pictorial account of this type of Georgia coastal Negro these field reports have been compiled. They endeavor to present the customs and beliefs of what is left of a generation closely linked to its native African origin. Some of this generation of Negroes were slaves; many of them are the children of former slaves and the grandchildren of native Africans. Their customs and tales are their own special heritage. Knowledge of them must be recorded now while this generation lives or they will lose much of their accuracy and value.
No attempt has been made to give a cross section of the Negro scene as a whole, but only that part of it which would seem to indicate the survival elements. This limitation of the field necessarily concentrates this study on the more primitive aspects of a comparatively small group of persons and ignores a large section of the Negro population whose interest and point of view are vastly different. Effort has been made to base the studies on source material provided by the Negro himself. Footnotes which give African parallels have been used. Though an African parallel does not confine the custom or belief to Africa alone, it provides interesting comparative material for the reader.