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Geechee Kunda Center is door to past
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Most people have heard of Indians and seen them on television, but have never been in their presence.
Oftentimes, false perceptions are drawn from what is depicted on television or in a book.  
The local community had an opportunity to actually see and hear an Indian chief on March 24 when Geechee Kunda Cultural Center and Museum of Georgia presented a Gullah Geechee oral history project at its site in Riceboro.
The event offered a time for people to share their stories.
“Geechee Kunda wants to record your history, memories, stories, or wisdom from your treasured life as you grew up in Coastal Georgia. The museum has a Geechee Kunda database that can tie most of the local African-American families to their ancestors in the early 1800s,” Jim Bacote said.
Bacote and his wife, Pat, are the owners and operators of the cultural center and museum on Way Temple Road south of  Riceboro.
Their mission is to teach and preserve the heritage and life of the Geechee culture.  
The day was filled with storytelling and memories. The main speaker was Chief Johnny Running Deer Bright of the Southern Band Cherokee Nation in Hardeeville, S.C.
“He represented the Indian, African-American connection.
African-Americans, Cherokees and Seminoles are intermingled with one another,” Jim Bacote said.
The chief was dressed in his full regalia and captured the audience’s attention with his oral history and dance.
“I travel from city to city telling our history so that it can be preserved. I love it. God has given me the knowledge and strength, and I have to pass it on through teaching, showing videos and displays,” he said.
The chief donated a copy of his book, “My People Have Something to Shout About,” and a picture of Binta Kinte of the Gambia to the museum.
Binta Kinte is the great-great-granddaughter of Kizzy who was portrayed in the award-winning novel, “Roots.”
He also presented some sheep wool and Carolina Gold rice to the museum.
“My parents still grow the rice in South Carolina. When I come back, I will demonstrate how to cut the rice, and I will do the eagle dance,” he said. “The rice made a lot of money. It set the standard for the world for the quality of rice. The seed for the rice came from Madagascar, Africa,” Bacote noted.
“When you grow up, be somebody,” the chief told the children. As he concluded his presentation, he said, “I am going to leave you in the hand of the Lord — peace, love, and happiness. Until we meet again, I leave a trail for you to follow.”
Daniel Fleming of Midway (who is considered to be a local “storyteller”) sang some old negro spirituals and hymns, and told the history of his ancestors.  
“My great-grandfather’s name was Bristel Fleming, and I live on the Bristel Fleming Plantation in the Way Land Community in Midway. Bristel had a brother named Dembo Fleming, but he changed his name to Dembo Bird.”
Fleming said Dembo changed his name to Bird because he was “free as a bird” when he got his freedom.  
Others who participated in sharing stories included Dr. Jamal Toure of Hilton Head.) Rich Ferguson of Savannah, the Rev. Griffin Lotson of McIntosh County and Elaine Brown of Brunswick.  
“The first time I came here, Jim told me to ‘come on in.’ It was the first place in the United States I really felt at home,” Brown said.    
“We want to make sure the children know our story,” Toure said.  
According to Bacote, Toure is the world’s greatest authority on the Geechee Gullah language.
Lotson said he was the first Geechee to run for lieutenant governor of Georgia.
He has been recognized by the White House for his community development initiatives and is well known for his work in the state and across the United States as a consultant for start-up non-profits in the areas of community and faith based initiatives.
Matthew Wells of BBC News was also on-site to film the day’s events.  
The Bacotes invite the public to join them for the many events held year-around at the museum. The next event, the Gathering at Geechee Kunda, is scheduled for April 21.
For more information about the museum, visit the Web site at
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