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The Geechees

Daughters of the Dust 1

As a young person, every once in a while, I'd hear a word from my parents that I didn't know. They'd say it in laughter. They'd say it in pity. They'd say it in scorn. I was afraid to say it for a long time, because I thought it was a curse word. The word was Geechee.


Every time my father would run into our neighbor, Mr. Ernie, they would joke about each other being a Geechee. They'd be chuckling and slapping backs and my father would vehemently deny that he was Geechee, and so would Mr. Ernie. Over time, I learned that a Geechee was something to be ashamed of.


A Geechee was someone who was supposedly "country" and out of step with modern reality. They were supposedly "slow" and not well educated and couldn't speak "proper" English. Being country was enough to make a Geechee totally unhip and being unhip was the last thing that even a young kid like myself, understood that you did not want to be.


Geechee DanMeanwhile, there were Geechee sitings occurring all around me. In 1974, I laughed my head off at Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby's first movie in their Black comedy, trilogy film series; Uptown Saturday Night. It presented Harry Belafonte beautifully portraying the one and only, Geechie Dan Beauford, a short-tempered gangster, who apparently was a signifying poke at Marlon Brando's, Academy Award winning performance as the mafia Don in The Godfather.


Geechee RecollectionsA few years later in either high school or college, I was hipped to Atlanta born, saxophonist Marion Brown's masterful 1973 album, Geechee Recollections. This record is a perfect marriage of experimental Jazz, African musical influences, as well as traditional Southern Folk, Blues and Jazz forms. It is clearly informed by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, as evidenced by the participation of the great drummer, Steve McCall and trumpeter, Wadada Leo Smith. Most important, this record featured my first experience with Jean Toomer's classic Harlem Renaissance poem; Karintha.


geechee herbsFinally, in 1991, the filmmaker Julie Dash releases the knockout punch of a film that presents an endearing and visually poetic exploration of Geechee life and history; Daughters of the Dust. It is the first feature film directed by an African-American woman distributed theatrically in the United States. It tells the story of three generations of Geechee/Gullah women on St. Helena Island, South Carolina in 1902, as they prepare to migrate to the North. The film gained critical praise, for its rich language and use of music, and powerful visual imagery. It won awards at the Sundance Film Festival and others.


So, who are the Geechees? The Geechee, people also known as The Gullah are the descendants of enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups of west and central Africa, brought to the New World in bondage and forced to work on the plantations of coastal South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida. Many of these people were specifically kidnapped to grow and harvest the rice crops of the Carolinas. The word, Geechee is speculated by some scholars to be probably related to the Ogeechee River near Savannah, Georgia. Gullah/Geechee people have retained many aspects of their African heritage due to the geographic barriers of the coastal landscape and the strong sense of place and family of Gullah/Geechee community members.


To be called a Geechee in the 1960s & 1970s was once considered an insult by many Northern Blacks. It meant that one was backward and a kind of country bumpkin. Today, we know that many elements of the African past survived and are still woven into Geechee customs and language, and it is a source of pride. To learn about the rich Geechee/Gullah language, history and customs, Click Here


Chef Valerie 4Come celebrate Geechee culture and the Great Migration, with PJP and Arch Street Meeting House
 on June 3rd, 2016. We are proud and honored to be in working on this celebration in collaboration with Chef Valerie Erwin, creator and executive chef of Philadelphia’s Geechee Girl Rice Cafe, a tribute to the food of the low country of South Carolina and Georgia, from which Valerie’s grandparents hailed. During its 12 year run, the critically acclaimed Geechee Girl received continuous praise for its delicious and sophisticated adaptations of traditional low country cuisine.


On Chef Valerie Erwin's July 1st Menu:

Grilled Chicken with Old Bay rub, Traditional Southern Potato Salad, Roasted Okra and Corn and Peach Pie bites.


Musical guest: Philadelphia bassist, Tony TNT Jones



On Chef Valerie Erwin's June 3rd Menu:

Low country-style Jambalaya with Chicken & Rice with Collard Green Salad with crushed peanuts and more.


Musical guest: South Carolina born, Philadelphia Jazz legend, Sam Reed


First Friday Rent Party Series
April 1 through August 5, 2016 - 7:30PM
Arch Street Meeting House

320 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19106

For More Rent Party Info - Click Here:



Tickets for these special events are only $25 per party.

Free parking available on premises - first come, first served.

Click Here To Purchase Tickets



See you at the Rent Parties!


First Friday Rent Party Series produced by Philadelphia Jazz Project in collaboration with Arch Street Meetinghouse.


PJP Logo           Arch Street


Philadelphia Jazz Project is a sponsored project of the CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, with funding provided by The Wyncote Foundation.


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