Historically associated with the Lowcountry region that stretches from Wilmington, North Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida, the Gullah Geechee are descendants of Central and West African ancestors who arrived in America through the transatlantic slave trade. The Gullah Geechee have had a major impact on the local culture of Jacksonville, which boasts more Gullah Geechee descendants than any other place in the country. Planned for the 1800 block of North Pearl Street, here is at what one can expect at this year’s 10th Annual Gullah Fest.

1. What is the Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation Community Development Corporation?

The Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation CDC is a non-profit, 501c3 organization dedicated to the education, development and preservation of Gullah Geechee culture, history and communities throughout the city of Jacksonville, Florida. The CDC’s goals are, among other things, to develop a sagacious citizenry through clear articulation of history among the largest aggregate of Gullah Geechee peoples in the Cultural Heritage Corridor, located here in Jacksonville..

Though the CDC is an independent organization, it envision itself as belonging to a coalition of organizations, communities and private citizens interested in Gullah Geechee cultural renaissance and second “Golden Age”. The CDC’s view of development includes education, environment, personal health, economics, technology, inspiration to view positive changes and any sphere of human activity that can improve the overall living conditions and citizenship experience of the collective community.

2. What is Gullah Fest?

Gullah Fest is an annual free admission cultural heritage fall festival sponsored by the Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Nation CDC. This 10th annual October Gullah Fest is designed to educate patrons of all ages on the historical footprint of Jacksonville’s African American influences.

3. Why was the Shoppes of Pearl selected for this year’s festival?

While the revitalization of Main Street has been in the forefront of Historic Springfield’s ongoing renaissance, the magic of the neighborhood’s rebirth has also returned to Pearl Street. Originating as a collection of storefronts along a former streetcar line, Pearl Street just north of 8th Street has quietly become filled with a walkable collection of local restaurants, boutiques and shops highlighting a slice of the city’s long standing Gullah Geechee traditions and culture.

4. What is one common element of Gullah/Geechee Cultural and Heritage that can be easily seen in and around Jacksonville today?

While Jacksonville’s rapid growth has resulted in a loss of certain aspects of its Lowcountry Gullah Geechee heritage and tradition, foodways are an important part of the city’s local culture that has been strengthened through family tradition and the density that urbanism brings. Many classic Southern dishes served at Jacksonville restaurants are actually derived from Gullah Geechee culture. One-pot dishes and other recipes featuring shellfish and locally cultivated rice and fresh vegetables, forming a hodgepodge of flavors, are a cultural foundation of Gullah Geechee cuisine. Many of these one-pot dishes involved the deep frying, boiling, steaming and baking of seafood and food types consistent with those received in weekly plantation rations. The seafood boil is an example of a popular one-pot dish that took advantage of ingredients that were readily available locally and could be quickly prepared and cook. Garlic crabs are a popular local variation of the boil that involves serving seafood in a garlicky butter sauce. Rice, another common dish was cultivated locally along the St. Johns River and its tributaries.

5. What can we expect to be exposed to at the October 26, 2019 festival?

One can expect to see Gullah Geechee culture, art, dance, storytelling, language, song and food on display. Performances celebrated throughout the day are created by local artist, schools, choirs, poets and dancers telling their story of these influences. Each year, for many participants, this cultural heritage event has become one of their most memorable life changing experiences.


Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at