National Museum of African American History to Display Photos of the Gullah People

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Miss Bertha, 1977 (JEANNE MOUTOUSSAMY-ASHE/NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE)

The collection is haunting: black-and-white stills of another place from another time, a documentation of the Gullah, or Geechee, people—a population of African descendants living on the Sea Islands off the Eastern coastline.  The images of a place and a people that time forgot were captured by celebrated photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe—the wife of renowned tennis player Arthur Ashe—between 1977 and 1981.

Bank of America donated the collection of more than 60 photos to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. The photographs center on the people and life of Daufuskie Island, a cultural and national treasure tucked away off the coast of South Carolina.

A “time capsule” is how the island was aptly described by Lonnie Bunch, the museum’s founding director, who is thrilled at the addition to the yet-to-be-finished museum.  In addition to the stunning collection, which Bank of America originally obtained through its acquisition of Merrill Lynch in 2007, the financial institution also donated $1 million toward the building of the museum, a $500 million project.

“We’ve had a great history with the [museum]. We were one of the first donors [and have a] long-standing partnership,” Bank of America spokeswoman Diane Wagner told The Root. “[The collection] seemed like a very natural fit to be donated to the museum as one of their key exhibitions once they open in 2015.

“We feel that the arts have the power to connect people and … can connect people across cultures, across geography and socioeconomic status … People can take a look at art and understand a different culture, or they can understand their heritage, where they come from and how they’ve been established,” she added.

The Gullah people settled off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia years ago. The community of freed slaves and their descendants are strongly influenced by African heritage, as reflected in their language and culture.  The inhabitants of the isolated island (home to fewer than 84 people at the time of Moutoussamy-Ashe’s project) sustained themselves by growing cotton and catching oysters.

“The Daufuskie Island photographs give us a powerful way of exploring and celebrating the vibrant culture created on American soil by descendants of enslaved Africans,” Bunch said in a press release.

The museum, along with this beautiful exhibit, is expected to open to the public in late 2015.

article by Breanna Edwards via theroot.com

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