Gullah Roots: Back to Sierra Leone

In December 2019 – January 2020, a group of Gullah community leaders, scholars, and performers from South Carolina and Georgia will visit Sierra Leone for ten days on a heritage tour focusing on the historic links between the Gullah people and Sierra Leoneans. A crew from SCETV will document the journey, which offers a unique opportunity to tell a story that is both a noteworthy cultural experience and the sequel to Family Across the Sea, one of the station’s most popular and enduring programs, produced in 1989. Thirty years later, Gullah Roots: Back to Sierra Leone will update the story through a multi-platform project that includes broadcast and web components and extensive educational outreach. SC Humanities supported this project with a Major Grant.

Gullah Roots: Back to Sierra Leone, will follow members of the South Carolina Gullah community as they travel to Sierra Leone. This cohort includes scholars, performers and cultural leaders who are on the cutting edge of current efforts to educate the general public about Gullah heritage. They include, among others, Eric Crawford, director of African American Studies at Coastal Carolina University and coordinator of the Gullah Geechee and African Diaspora Conference; Veronica Gerald, former Director of The Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Diaspora Studies; Victoria Smalls, Program Development Director of Penn Center, and staff members of the International African American Museum in Charleston.

The tour will also include an artistic exchange component. Several well-known Gullah performing artists, including Anita Singleton Prather and Ron and Natalie Daise, will travel with the group to perform traditional Gullah songs and stories for Sierra Leonean audiences and share the stage with local performers. The purpose of the project will be to raise awareness of Gullah and its ties to West Africa, and to examine the changes that have taken place over the last 30 years – both the positive developments and the challenges Gullah people face today. Far from being a static, dying culture, as it was once perceived, Gullah is a vibrant way of life that includes significant spiritual, culinary, musical and artistic traditions. It is one of South Carolina’s great treasures. It is SCETV’s hope that Gullah Roots: Back to Sierra Leone will help viewers understand the value of Gullah culture and the importance of supporting it into the future. The broadcast documentary is expected to be completed in 2020.

South Carolina ETV (SCETV) is the state’s public educational broadcasting network. Using television, radio and the web, SCETV’s mission is to enrich lives by educating children, informing and connecting citizens, celebrating our culture and environment and instilling the joy of learning. Learn more at

The mission of SC Humanities is to enrich the cultural and intellectual lives of all South Carolinians. Established in 1973, this 501(c) 3 organization is governed by a volunteer 21-member Board of Directors comprised of community leaders from throughout the state. It presents and/or supports literary initiatives, lectures, exhibits, festivals, publications, oral history projects, videos and other humanities-based experiences that directly or indirectly reach more than 250,000 citizens annually.

Image: From Family Across the Sea; credited to SCETV