African Descendants Have Stake in Saving U.S. Southeast Salt Marshes
Chieftess of Gullah/Geechee Nation supports new initiative to protect a million acres
Salt marshes in the southeastern U.S. are home to descendants of enslaved Africans who have worked together for generations to protect their lands, waters, history, and culture.
Known as the Gullah/Geechee, these estimated 1 million people inhabit the Sea Islands and coastal areas stretching from Jacksonville, North Carolina, to Jacksonville, Florida, and 35 miles inland. Since the times of slavery, the Gullah/Geechee people, who hail from numerous African ethnic groups and built some of the richest plantations in the South, were informally considered “a nation within a nation” with their own language, crafts, and traditions.
In 2000, members of the Gullah/Geechee community formally established their nation and chose computer scientist and South Carolina native Marquetta L. Goodwine as chieftess and head of state. Known as Queen Quet, she has gained worldwide recognition for her community and worked to protect its lands and waters. Now she’s joining a major new project aimed at conserving salt marsh—the grasslands that flood and drain with the tides and provide vital habitat for wildlife ranging from fish to birds.
The project, known as the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative, was created in May and brings together federal, state, and local governments, military officials, and community leaders such as Queen Quet, who recognize the habitat’s ability to help protect shorelines against flooding and storm surge. The initiative aims to conserve about a million acres of marsh stretching from North Carolina to north Florida, an area that is home to installations for every branch of the military.
In the coming months, initiative leaders will begin hashing out a plan designed to help communities and the military better prepare for the future through coordinated transportation and development plans, targeted restoration projects, and conservation of lands adjacent to marshes, allowing the tidal wetlands to move as sea levels rise. Read the full article and interview with Queen Quet.
Article excerpted with permission of the Pew Charitable Trusts.