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Library: Series delves into Gullah culture

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The Georgetown County Library will begin a year-long series of programs on the rice culture Sunday afternoon that will culminate in a festival in 2015.

Dr. Tracey L. Weldon, a professor in the English Department and the Linguistic Program of the University of South Carolina, will speak on “The Place of Gullah in the African American Language Continuum: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives” from 2 to 4:30 p.m. at the library’s main branch on Cleland Street, Georgetown.

Weldon, who calls herself a “socio-linguist,” will reflect on the origins of the Gullah language, its development and its current role and compare it with other African-American dialects.

Librarian Dwight McInvaill said the county received a grant from the South Carolina Humanities Commission for the events. “This is our year of Gullah language and Southern history,” he said. “The grant will enable us to have a series of speakers talk about Gullah culture and interview Gullah cultural and artistic leaders of the community for a film to be shown in the fall of 2015 at our rice event.”

Weldon’s presentation will be the first of a series of programs at the library titled “Out of the Rice Fields: Vestiges of Gullah Culture in Modern Society.” Upcoming speakers from the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina include: Dr. Qiana Whitted, Dec. 4, art and graphic novels; Dr. Melissa Cooper, Jan. 11, culture; Dr. Folashade Alao, Jan. 24, literature; and Dr. Birgitta Johnson, Feb. 8, music. Dr. Nikki Finney, a poet, will also participate on a date not yet announced.

McInvaill said Weldon was highly recommended by Dr. Valinda Littlefield, head of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. “Dr. Weldon is a wonderful speaker,” he said, “and quite an authority on the Gullah language as well.”

Weldon said her presentation will include theories about where Gullah comes from and focus on the relationship of Gullah and other African American languages spoken in the United States. “I will try to take a historical as well as a contemporary perspective.”

McInvail said the library’s rice festival, which is associated with the Lowcountry Rice Culture Committee, will focus on the arts and culture before and after the Civil War.

“The production and usage of rice has influenced the Lowcountry of South Carolina so very deeply,” he said. “This will give people who have lived here for some time the opportunity to share once more their common heritage and give newcomers the opportunity to learn about a very unique culture that exists only on the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and maybe a little in North Carolina. This will be an exceptional year for the people of our community.”

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