As Hurricane Florence hits the East Coast of the United States, millions of Americans are fleeing the Carolinas and battening down the hatches ahead of the fierce storm. But one community of slave descendants from St. Helena Island near the South Carolina-Georgia border is much more likely to stay put when the wind and the waves descend upon their precious land.
Of course, they are still listening in to weather updates on the radio and keeping a close eye on the clouds. But the older members of the tight-knit community hold much more weight when it comes to making the ultimate decision of whether or not to evacuate.
“If Mama won’t leave, most folks aren’t going to leave,” local barber Josh Dais told The State. “If Mama and Grandma are going, then a lot of people are leaving.”
The Gullah-Geechee community is home to approximately 5,000 people. Experts believe that the group’s separation from the mainland has meant that they have kept much of their cultural heritage. Notable individuals who have originated from the unique community include Kansas City Chiefs safety, Ron Parker, and the winner of American Idol Season 12, Candice Glover.
The group has also survived a number of large hurricanes, despite being warned of their island’s vulnerability during fierce storms.
Emory Campbell, a Gullah descendant and scholar, remembers being out and about in the neighborhood as Hurricane Gracie struck Hilton Head Island back in 1959.
“We saw some remnants of hurricanes here when I was growing up,” Campbell said, according to the Daily Mail. “The wind would blow, you’d put some tin up against the window, but you wouldn’t know that much except for the scratchy sounds on the radio coming out of Savannah.”
Despite Hurricane Florence being downgraded to a Category 2 storm, meteorologists still believe that the subsequent rainfall and storm surge could be devastating. But this is a community of deep faith in the Lord, and they’d rather place their safety and security in His hands. Plus, as Gullah community member Bertha Bradley explained, the overwhelming traffic posed its own threat.
“I said, ‘Why get on the road like this? I’m going to get killed on the road,” Bradley explained. “I should stay in my house, where I have water and food. If God’s coming for you, you can’t run from him.”