TitleThey made Gullah
NameCooper, Melissa L. (author), Bay, Mia (chair), Satter, Beryl (internal member), Fabian, Ann (internal member), Baldwin, Davarian (outside member), Brown, Vincent (outside member), Rutgers University, Graduate School - New Brunswick,
Modernism (Aesthetics)--Georgia--Sapelo Island,
Sapelo Island (Ga.)--History
DescriptionThe history of Sapelo Islanders in published works reveals a complex cast of characters, each one working through ideas about racial distinction and inheritance; African culture and spirituality; and the legacy of slavery during the most turbulent years in America’s race-making history. Feuding social scientists, adventure seeking journalists, amateur folklorists, and other writers, initiated and shaped the perception of Sapelo Islanders’ distinct connection to Africa during the 1920s and 1930s, and labeled them “Gullah.” These researchers characterized the “Gullah,” as being uniquely connected to their African past, and as a population among whom African “survivals” were readily observable. This dissertation argues that the popular view of Sapelo Islanders’ “uniqueness” was the product of changing formulations about race and racial distinction in America. Consequently, the “discovery” of Sapelo Island’s Gullah folk was more a sign of times than an anthropological discovery. This dissertation interrogates the intellectual motives of the researchers and writers who have explored Sapelo Islanders in their works, and argues that the advent of American Modernism, the development of new social scientific theories and popular cultural works during the 1920s and 1930s, and other trends shaped their depictions. This study begins by examining the changing meaning of blacks’ Africanness as a result of the shift from Victorian to Modernist thought, traces the “Gullah” in African survivals debates in the academe and uncovers the popular obsession with blacks’ Africanness expressed in the 1920s and 1930s “voodoo craze.” Next, the study charts the way the that these larger national trends relative to black peoples’ Africanness touched down on Sapelo Island, Georgia and impacted the lives of the islanders caught in the primitivist’s gaze. Finally, the dissertation explores black women writers’ discovery of Sapelo Islanders in the wake of the Black Studies movement, and analyzes their contribution to the way that the Gullah have been imagined. From African savages during the Victorian period, to beloved primitives during the advent of American Modernism, to beloved African American ancestors in the years following the Black Studies movement, Sapelo Island’s “Gullah folk” have served to fill the needs of various groups’ race fantasies for generations.
NoteIncludes bibliographical references
Noteby Melissa L. Cooper
CollectionGraduate School - New Brunswick Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey
RightsThe author owns the copyright to this work.