Browse Topics



For immediate release
August 28, 2000
Jessamyn Sarmiento, NPR

NPR Examines the Cost of Paradise Sea Island's Development and the Gullah Community

As part of the NPR News series The Changing Face of America, All Things Considered will examine how an unique African-American culture has had to deal with a mushrooming tourism industry along the South Carolina Coast.

It's a story about the Gullah/Geechee people. They're a group descended from enslaved Africans who managed to retain much of their ethnic and cultural identity. Gullahs hung onto their own ways of life and language right up to the end of the 20th century. Their shield against the outside world was self-sufficiency and geography.

But one-by-one, vacationers have found their way to these remote specks of land along the Georgia and South Carolina border. Yet, the economic benefits of the tourist dollar have only slowly found their way into Gullah pockets. So after years of protesting and complaining, Gullah community leaders want to tap into the success of the hotels, beachfront property and golf courses. And, in the process, they want to share their own cultural history with the newcomers.

This scenario plays itself out in different ways on a trio of islands we examine. There's the thoroughly altered Daufuskie Island. Here, large tasteful developments erased have all but erased a Gullah culture that until the 1980s spread clear across the island.

Then there's the highly successful Hilton Head Island, the most populated of the Sea Islands. There are two very different sections of Hilton Head Island - the well-known tourist destination and the long-standing, African-American Gullah community.

Hilton Head Island has long been divided geographically. At the southern end of the island, vacation properties, country clubs and golf courses draw visitors from around the country to a recreational paradise whereas the northern side has been home to Gullah families. In recent years, the two Hilton head communities have collided as resort development has expanded northward to encompass the region where the Gullah people live. Along with more visitors have come more vacation properties, and busy, overhead expressways. The resulting pollution, traffic and overcrowding has brought the once hidden Gullah community to the forefront of Hilton Head's development debate.

Finally, there's St. Helena's island. Folks there are using the experiences of the other islands to weigh how they will deal with the development that will surely come.

NPR's Vertamae Grosvenor, a Gullah/Geechee and a frequent visitor to the islands, speaks to its members to determine what these changes have meant to them and their traditional way of life. This The Changing Face of America report will air on All Things Considered, Wednesday, August 30. For station information and broadcast times, please visit NPR's Web site at

The Changing Face of America is an 18-month-long series that tells the stories of regular, everyday Americans and the issues they face at a time of dramatic and rapid change. NPR News correspondents explore and report on such diverse issues as immigration, inter-generational conflict, economic development, urban growth, education, technology and leisure, all within the context of a changing America. Feature segments of The Changing Face of America appear on Morning Edition® with Bob Edwards and All Things Considered. As part of this series, NPR's midday call-in program Talk of the Nation is traveling to cities and towns across America for monthly broadcast forums before live audiences.

The series is supported by a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Pew Charitable Trusts invest in ideas that fuel timely action and results. It is focusing a significant portion of its resources on supporting programs that stimulate participation in civic affairs. These include initiatives that foster a citizenry more engaged in local, regional and national public issues and that provide information resources for the media, the public and policymakers.

Renowned for its journalistic excellence and standard-setting news, information and cultural programming, NPR serves a growing audience of nearly 15 million Americans each week via more than 644 public radio stations. NPR also distributes programming to listeners in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa via NPR Worldwidesm, to military installations overseas via American Forces Network, and throughout Japan via cable. cable.