It’s an experience familiar to any book lover — a new book arrives in the mail, and the night is spent with eyes glued to the page, reading the story cover to cover.
Amy Roberts did just that when her copy of “Gullah Geechee Heritage in the Golden Isles” arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago.
“They didn’t drop it off at my house, they dropped it off at my neighbor’s house,” Roberts said. “She was telling me, ‘I’ve got something for you here,’ and she whipped it out.”
Roberts was already familiar with the story, though. She co-wrote the book, and she lived the history it shares.
Roberts serves as the executive director of the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, and her memory overflows with stories about Gullah Geechee history in Glynn County. She grew up on St. Simons and attended the island’s Harrington School, which was built in the 1920s and served as the main educational structure for three African American communities on St. Simons.
Roberts partnered with the book’s co-author Patrick Holladay, president of the Friends of the Harrington School and associate professor at Troy University, to put her many memories, stories and long-shared facts about her family’s culture down on paper. They spent a year talking, drafting and finalizing the completed product, which hit shelves — both solid and virtual — on Aug. 12.
The book offers a rare, Georgia-focused look at Gullah Geechee history in the Golden Isles. Most books about this history focus on South Carolina’s history, Holladay said.
The book was printed by History Press in Charleston, South Carolina. History Press, which is an imprint of Arcadia Publishing, reached out to Roberts and Holladay and asked them to write the book.
“The Gullah Geechee interest is really strong,” Holladay said. “… And there’s the fact that the Harrington School is about the only example of a fully restored one-room schoolhouse on the whole corridor, which runs from North Carolina to Florida.”
Holladay and Roberts met weekly inside the Harrington School building to work on their book. Roberts would talk, Holladay would listen, and his cell phone would record their conversations. Then, the pair drafted the book’s chapters, each of which delve into the history of specific areas of the Golden Isles.
The book shares stories of Ibo Landing and Neptune Small on St. Simons and the Wanderer on Jekyll Island. In Brunswick, the history features Selden Normal and Industrial Institute and the Risley Colored Memorial School. Hofwyl Broadfield Plantation and Needwood Church also play prominent roles in the story.
“A lot of people really don’t know their history, and especially the history in Glynn County,” Roberts said. “If you’re going to stay here, you might as well learn something about it.”
Roberts provides firsthand accounts in the book about growing up on St. Simons at a time when the island was much different. She’s seen St. Simons transform through the years, and today she’ll happily share stories about the island she grew up on.
Many families with Gullah Geechee heritage have had to move away from the area through the years, as living on the island became too expensive, Holladay said.
“This island used to be over 85 percent African American, and it’s less than 3 percent now,” he said. “And that’s just in 50 years.”
Book royalties will be donated to the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition and the Harrington School.
A book signing event will take place at Sept. 12 at 10:30 a.m. at the Casino Theater. The event will be hosted by the St. Simons Literary Guild and GJ Ford Bookshop.
The book can be purchased at GJ Ford Bookshop, Righton Books, the Golden Isles Visitors Center and Sawgrass Artist Market.
The book can also be purchased at amazon.com.