BETWEEN PRAYER AND PROTEST: GULLAH IDENTITY IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE CHARLESTON SHOOTING Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
Creator
  • Heyward, Elijah, III
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of American Studies
Abstract
  • “Between Prayer and Protest: Contemporary Gullah Identity in the Aftermath of the Charleston Shooting” explores contemporary Gullah identities through the lens of the horrific shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Coverage of the event highlighted the prayers and forgiveness by Mother Emanuel’s members, with little attention paid to the cultural context of Charleston’s Gullah population. Through a critical exploration of Gullah spirituality, Gullah familial networks, and Gullah expressive culture, my project endeavors to complicate the narratives so often told about Gullah people, by exploring the often overlooked role of subversion and agency that has historically sustained the community. My fieldwork in the Gullah diaspora is complemented by a historical investigation of how Gullah identities were crafted by cultural outsiders. Gullah consciousness guides and informs Gullah community life. Through interviews with Gullah natives, my dissertation interrogates the commodification of Gullah identity, while exploring how Gullah people reclaim and wrestle with the imminent impacts of migration and economic barriers in the 21st century. The work of counter-curators explicitly and implicitly encourages a re-examination of what it means to be Gullah, and invites us to explore Gullah identity in provocative and nuanced ways. Artist like Charmaine Bee and Sheldon Scott explicitly challenge historical tropes through their multi-media art projects that explore racial violence, gender and sexuality, and Gullah futures. The implicit work rests in the everydayness of Gullah traditions that, when explored beyond the surface, highlight the dynamism of cultural practice that transcends outsider representations. For instance, the intentionality around godparenting in the Gullah context persists as an example of the Gullah community’s singular commitment to child rearing and the transmission of values. This exploration takes readers beyond the South Carolina Lowcountry, to a discussion of the ways that Gullah values are creatively employed by Gullah people within a broader diaspora. This diaspora, which I refer to as the Gullah diaspora, functions as a literal and theoretical framework for engaging evolving notions of community.
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Advisor
  • Williams, Heather Andrea
  • Hinson, Glenn
  • Ferris, William
  • Sawin, Patricia
  • Holland, Sharon
Degree
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2018
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