Judy C. Andrews received a Master of Arts degree in English/Creative Writing and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences from The City College of New York. She has worked as an educator, freelance writer, editor, and a children's advocate. Her historical, fictional, thrilling novels, An Ocean of Jewels, and A Gift To Treasure are reflections of her Gullah/Geechee heritage. Her most recent work, The Gathering of Gemstones: A Poetry Collection, which was published during the 2020 global pandemic, explores the themes of love, hope, and peace in an ever-changing world. Ms. Andrews enjoys cooking, taking long walks in warm rain, and sightseeing.
The characters in the literary works of Judy C. Andrews seek ways to rectify dangerous situations or experiences in the predominantly African American communities of fictional towns in Georgia (Eva Creek Island) and New York (Jewel Park).
A Brief History of the Gullah People
My father spoke the Gullah/Geechee language, but I didn't find that out until I was an adult. I had spent my entire childhood in foster care (ages seven to 21), and I rarely understood the language my father spoke when I lived with him and my mother before I went into foster care. When I entered college, I read a novel by brilliant author, Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and it opened up a new world for me. Many of the phrases in the novel as well as those in my life, were identical to things I grew up hearing my father say, such as: "Tie yah mout'," "I'm finnah make some pone,' "I'm fixin tah have a word wid yah come noon," "Don't be actin' so siditty," and "Ah reckon' so!" I wanted to bring that pidgin to creole language as well as culture back, in a modern-day manner, and preserve it, just for myself. I write about Gullah/Geechee-infused experiences in standard English. I also focus on the themes of foster care, family, education, and history. To my parents, who did the best they knew how to do, tengy fuh de tenduh mannus fuh lub! Although not fluent in the Gullah/Geechee language, I knew enough of it to write that sentence, which I dedicated to my parents in my debut novel, An Ocean of Jewels, that I published in 2006 (Harlem Writers Guild Press). Translated, it means, "Thank you for your tenderness and all of your love."
My mother was from Savannah, Georgia, and my father was born in Virginia. His parents grew up in Georgia and spoke the Gullah/Geechee language. My father only spoke that language to me, never English. I recently perused my genealogical website and discovered much more about my heritage and the Gullah/Geechee Nation. On July 2, 2000, the Gullah/Geechee people became a nation with an internationally recognized flag. They already had a leader (more like a president), named Queen Quet, (formerly known as Marquetta L. Goodwine), a woman I casually met as she breezed past the table where I was selling my debut novel, many years ago, at the Harlem Book Fair, in New York City. I was filled with awe as she greeted me and went on her way. She is regal and eloquent. Her energy, passion, and drive are responsible for Gullah/Geechee history being recognized around the world.
Gullah/Geechee refers to the language and descendants of African Americans from 17 different Western African and Central African countries and ethnic groups, more specifically, Angola, Sierra Leone, and their surrounding nations, who were kidnapped and enslaved from there to work the rice, cane, and cotton fields on American southern plantations in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Florida. Many scholars believe that Gullah people descended from the African country of Angola, speak Gullah and were enslaved in The Carolinas, while Gidzi (Geechee) people speak Geechee and were descended from the African country of Sierra Leone and enslaved in Georgia and Florida. The language of Gullah/Geechee is considered to be a mixture of African and English words (Gullah is the pidgin language, while Geechee is the creole language), developed by enslaved Africans from different ethnic groups in Western African and Central African countries, used to communicate with each other during the African American slave trade. Pidgin is not a language that is grammatically correct or even written down, but spoken. It allowed enslaved Africans from different ethnic groups to communicate, as well as keep important information, such as freedom planning, from their owners. Today, the language has become more of a creole mix, and people who may not be of Gullah/Geechee heritage have learned the language as well.
During the period directly following the American Civil War, known as Reconstruction, a Land Order, Special Field Order No. 15, was issued by General William Tecumseh Sherman, as a way for formerly enslaved African Americans to create socio-economic stability by being paid to work on the land they were formerly enslaved on, (which is where the term “40 acres and a mule” comes from), but president Andrew Johnson withdrew the order given by General Sherman, to appease racist plantation owners who wanted to keep the American slave trade alive, regardless of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the document which made American slavery illegal.
After the American Civil War, thousands of plantation owners were unable to maintain their land, were killed during the war, or they simply abandoned their land. Many Gullah/Geechee people stayed on the mainland properties, while others were able to purchase land and move closer to the beautiful and stunning coastline, as well as develop it, holding on to their African traditions which still exist today, through cuisine, a tranquil lifestyle, and beliefs.
The historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island in South Carolina is a great place to learn about the history of the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Tours are offered as well. The film, “The Will to Survive,” as well as a variety of content regarding this subject, available for free on YouTube, also sheds light on this rich American history, and more recently, the Netflix film, “High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America,” explores the cuisine.
Gullah and Geechee are words used interchangeably to refer to a person who is of Western African or Central African heritage, who also speaks Gullah, and is also Geechee, due to having been born, or having lived in the surrounding areas of the regions of The Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.
The language is spoken within the Gullah/Geechee culture, but can be understood outside of the Gullah/Geechee culture, and people who are not of Gullah/Geechee heritage may speak the language if they grew up in the areas of The Carolinas, Georgia, or Florida. or around people who are Gullah/Geechee.
Today, there are more than 1,000 Sea Islands off the coasts of The Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, such as Sapelo Island, St. Helena Island, Johns Island, and Edisto Island. My father was often called “a fast talkin’ Geechee.” I rarely understood most of what he said. My debut novel is based loosely on my childhood and my perception of the life my parents had together before I was placed in foster care. I didn’t know anything about my rich heritage until after my mother died as well as when I became an adult and was well into my 30s. When I did research for my debut novel, for the first time, I learned about the Gullah/Geechee history. My mother refused to speak the language, and her family, quite bourgie, did not appreciate the relationship my parents had. Colorism was involved as well.
My mother is much lighter in complexion than my father, who is my complexion. My mother’s family believed that “proper” English should be spoken, especially in front of non-people of color. In addition to my mother's family not admiring my father's complexion, they did not like the way he spoke either, but he didn’t care. Today, the Gullah/Geechee Nation has a translation of the King James version of the bible and a dictionary. More than 250,000 people speak the Gullah/Geechee language, according to the Penn Center. For the books I write, I infuse the Gullah/Geechee history, culture, and language in my work. The best literary examples of the Gullah/Geechee people are found in Zora Neale Hurston’s book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the classic musical, Porgy and Bess, and hundreds of folktales from the African diaspora as well as Gullah/Geechee Sea Islands. There are also amazing detailed folktales, cookbooks, crafts, and culture throughout the Sea Islands. There is a terrific article I found in The New York Times that I feel captures the Sea Island experience: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/15/travel/south-carolina-gullah-geechee-low-country.html?smid=em-share.There are many more. Just google: The Gullah/Geechee Nation.
I never learned about any of this in elementary school, high school, or even college. Gullah/Geechee history is American history every student should know, and it should be part of the curricula of global educational centers as well as all educational institutions in America.