Savannah’s Black Heritage is not the most touted tour in our beautiful city and perhaps that is because people tend to step lightly when discussing slavery even after all these years. This subtle attitude however belies the magnificence of the contribution that Savannah’s blacks have given to the fabric of our city. Four inns of Savannah have decided to collaboratively create a package that will highlight some of the best but lesser known historical sites of our city’s black history, culture and heritage.
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When the Gullah people settled in the lowcountry in the 1700s, I bet they never imagined their influence would carry all the way into the 21st century, but The Savannah Black Heritage Festival is in its 22nd year and definitely keeping the culture alive. The Gullah cherished storytelling, cuisine, music, folklore, and crafts, which can all be found at the fest, running February 1st through the 13th:
What? What is a ring shouter? Well, I certainly didn’t know before I read the newspaper article in the Savannah Morning News but as I write this blog I am listening to a recording of “Run Old Jeremiah” sung by Joe Washington Brown and Austin Coleman in Jennings, Louisiana, in 1934. The words of the “shout” are written just below the recording which helps make sense of the roles each Shouter plays. The leader is the “Songster” who begins the song, and next to him is the “basser” whose job it is to call back the lines of the song. Next to the leader is the “stick man” who beats a rhythm with a wooden stick or broom and the basser adds rhythm with hand clapping or foot tapping. The women shouters move in a counterclockwise direction shuffling their feet while singing. Pantomime may also be a part of the ring shout to help convey the story of the song, like rocking a baby.
The congregation of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in the tiny community in Bolden is known as the keepers of ring shout, a spiritual dance-like practice rooted in the African slave tradition. The practice was first described during the Civil War by outside observers in coastal communities of Georgia and South Carolina and was largely thought to have died out until its rediscovery in the early 1980’s. These shout songs have been passed down from their slave ancestors generation to generation largely intact. The church has a performing group, the McIntosh County Shouters that performs anywhere they are asked to, and recently received a $3000 grant from the Plum Creek Foundation to continue performing the ring shout in area schools.
Join the McIntosh County Shouters at 6 p.m. on July 21 at the Second African Baptist Church, 123 Houston Street. The group hopes to raise money for a trip to perform in Washington, DC at the Kennedy Center on December 1 and at the Lincoln Center on December 2. I hope to see you there!