|September 28, 1994
RE: Forthcoming visit to the U.S. of Mr. Maurice Glèlè-Ahanhanzo
UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism
Further to our conversation this morning, please be advised that IHRAAM feels it urgent that
Mr. Glèlè-Ahanhanzo meet with a Member of its Directorate in order that he be fully informed of
a current U.S. process of ethnocide being applied against that segment of the
African-American people which has struggled for centuries to maintain its ethnic culture and
language: the Gullah people, who live in the low country along the eastern seaboard of the US
from the Carolinas to Florida, and comprise some 600,000 persons.
Formed through the welding together of various African cultures and the Anglo-American
culture in their original encounter during the process of African enslavement, the Gullah
culture and language have been preserved for over some three centuries, due to the constant
and largely successful effort of this seminal sector of the African-American minority to resist
assimilation and Anglo-Saxonization. The Gullah culture and language represents the living,
albeit endangered, root of contemporary African-American culture and language.
Should the Gullah culture and language disappear forever, the crucial link between Africa and
America that it provides to African-American cultural history will be lost, and with it the
possibility of meaningful understanding of African-American culture for what it is: a unique
African culture endemic to America, created and evolved on U.S. soil, whose life sap has
invigorated and informed the myriad flowerings of African-American culture which have
followed. Once this understanding is lost, what is to prevent African-Americans from being
permanently assimilated into the lowest social echelons in America, with the vestigial aspects
of their historic American culture disparaged as manifestations of behavioral ignorance or
inadequacy, rather than acknowledged (and mourned) as traces of a lost identity? What is to
prevent their deplorable socio-economic situation from being interpreted as solely due to
racial discrimination, rather than as resulting from the submergence of a nationality by a
dominant majority (and hence requiring minority rights to ensure cultural preservation and
Today, due to the onslaught of official U.S. policies of assimilation, the Gullah are being forced
to aban-don their culture and language, and in this process undergo ail the suffering and pain
endured by any ethnic minority undergoing a process of forced rather than voluntary
assimilation. Children are being devalued in schools for speaking the language of their
ancestors, who have been U.S. citizens for gen-erations. Cultural practices are denigrated.
Lands and territories traditionally inhabited by the Gullah are being encroached upon,
particularly by an expanding tourist/resort industry, and communi-ties are being destroyed.
Nonetheless, the on-going resistance of Gullah culture is evidenced by newly-emerging
festivals celebrating Gullah culture that have attracted nation-wide African-American
participation, the forthcoming publication of a dictionary and syllabus of the Gullah language
for use in schools, etc.
IHRAAM feels that, in his meeting with various African-American leaders, it would be extremely
inappropriate for Mr. Glèlè-Ahanhanzo not to meet with people concerned with this threatened
commu-nity which provides the historic focus of African-American culture. IHRAAM would be
pleased to facilitate his meeting with Gullah spokespersons in South Carolina, through the
intervention of its South East Regional Director in Columbia, S. C., Mr. Rashid Abdullah.
Ideally, such a meeting could take place in Charleston, S.C., at Mr. G1&Ahanhanzo's
However, failing such an unplanned stop on Mr. Glel-Ahanhanzo's itinerary; a film elaborating
the situation and struggle of the Gullah people could be provided by the IHRAAM NE Regional
Secretariat as a significant part of its deliberations with him, should a meeting with IHRAAM in
New York be included in his schedule.
We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. On behalf of the IHRAAM
Chair and Directorate,
The UN Special Rapporteur met with the IHRAAM delegation on October 17, 1997, in New York
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