In the 1970s, photographer Greg Day lived in the African American basket-making communities along the Gullah/Geechee Coast, documenting a way of life on the verge of change. Casting for shrimp with nets made as they are still made in Africa, making sweet grass baskets, scraping bristles off a freshly slaughtered hog, dancing at a juke joint on a Saturday night—these rural pastimes would soon be displaced by suburban sprawl, hastened by the destruction of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.
Designated by Congress in 2006, the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina through coastal South Carolina and Georgia to Jacksonville, Florida. It is home to one of America’s most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southern United States from West Africa and continued in later generations by their descendents. Today many African Americans, including First Lady Michelle Obama, trace their ancestry to this region. Once identified with the Creole language spoken by African Americans in the region, today the term Gullah refers to a whole range of customs and beliefs, cuisine, domestic architecture, and arts, including the sweetgrass baskets in the exhibition Grass Roots: African Origins of an American Art, opening October 4, 2009.