“Jesus, Hide me in a sacred place.” – an old Gullah prayer
-from Nick Lindsay’s book, And I’m Glad, an oral history of Edisto Island
Yesterday I went out on the cobblestones and met a man named Alphonso Brown. He is friend to Philip Simmons, the revered blacksmith, and knows the man well enough to infect you with Mr. Simmon’s gentle and soulful spirit, a man whose work and life has all of the attributes that Henri suggests we should have as artists. Alphonso Brown teaches the other half of Charleston’s history, the part not told by her many historic statues and plaques. African American slaves physically built most of this fair place, and certainly much of the famous Lowcountry cuisine was also created by a people who were enslaved as house servants.
There is something about people who can laugh and make you laugh. Something deep down strong. How do you tell the history of a people who endured so much? The story coming from this man feels like the smooth, cooled, curve of iron, like that forged in the fires of Philip Simmon’s studio. It feels strong and beautiful now, resiliant, dignified by the adversity. I particularly liked his tales involving color. Did you know that the bright red of so many roofs in Charleston is from the Bible? The Gullah say it is from story of the Passover, where, in Exodus, God says that “the Blood will be sign for you on the houses where you live”. Red roofs protect the “Holy City”, he says. And the reason that brides carry blue, and continue the tradition of “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue”? Gullah. Blue is another protective color to the Gullah people. ‘Ghosts’ and ‘hags’ just don’t like the bright blue shade that is that painted on houses to this day in the Lowcountry.
If you want an unforgettable experience of the city, go find this man. Gullah Tours.com. He will pepper your experience with glorious tidbits of new history. And he will speak and teach and sing to you in Gullah, which, as a language, has a very regular syntax and phonology of its own. It is what many call a song language, and it is distinctively American, a creole, that is a clever blend of the different cultural influences of the Lowcountry. I left my time with Alphonso Brown inspired, a little awestruck, with a longing to learn more from this man. He has a book I can’t wait to order: A Gullah Guide to Charleston: Walking Through Black History.