On June 17, Juneteenth became the 12th official federal holiday after President Joe Biden signed the bill into law. That same day, prior to their regularly scheduled Hinesville City Council meeting, Coastal Georgia Minority Chamber of Commerce Director, Sabrina Newby and several local business owners joined Mayor Allen Brown as he signed a Proclamation recognizing June 19, 2021 as Juneteenth Celebration Day.
Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved people until June 19 when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas. It was also two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing slaves in Southern states.
Newby said it was important to recognize the history of the African Americans who built this nation, many who were rooted right here in Liberty County. She has embarked in a new endeavor to revitalize the Geechee Kunda Cultural Arts and Museum in Riceboro in honor of its founder the late Jim Bacote and his surviving widow Pat Bacote.
The Museum and surrounding property is being leased by the Coastal Georgia Minority Chamber of Commerce and they will take over the day-to-day operational function. Newby was named as the Museum Curator, Dr. Jamal Toure will serve as the Creative Director and Gregory Grant as the Education Director.
“Culture…history is important and it’s everybody’s culture and everybody’s history,” Newby said. “This is why this is such a wonderful project for me. I love to continue the beautification of culture and history. I don’t care what culture or history it is, because it is all important, it all relates to who we are as Americans. But when I looked at this project, I thought this will not only be wonderful, but this could be the epicenter for the African Convention…there is nothing else like Geechee Kunda in the nation.”
Newby said she became involved with Geechee Kunda prior to Bacote’s pssing in 2018.
“At the time there were only four people who were the voice of the Geechee Kunda,” Newby said recalling when she first met Bacote. “That was Jim and his wife Pat and Dr. Jamal Toure and Gregory Grant.”
She said after his passing, she became more devoted in keeping and revitalizing Geechee Kunda and preserve its legacy.
Jim Bacote was a major advocate in keeping the traditions of the Gullah-Geechee community alive and accessible to all. Bacote had returned to his home here in Liberty County in 2000 with a plan to preserve African history and the culture of the Gullah Geechee and he and his wife built Geechee Kunda in 2000.
He was instrumental in the creation of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor which stretches from North Carolina to Florida, primarily along the sea islands and coasts.
While still operational, the COVID-19 pandemic kept the doors closed for roughly a year.
Newby said they began renovations and that all the authentic Gullah artifacts that Bacote acquired and collected throughout his many years will remain as exhibits. She added they’ve taken measures to increase security to protect the collections and also enclosed the back area which was previously without a roof. Cameras have been installed and they plan to use that space as a Cultural Arts Center and for meetings and gatherings.
Newby said the revitalization plans include adding a restaurant they plan to call the Geechee Kunda Café. She said there are also plans to have small retail boutiques and a market area where folks can sell unique hand-made items that highlight the Gullah Geechee culture. She said the property currently has one small round hut and plans are to add a few more huts which could then serve as staying quarters for overnight visits.
“People come from all over the world to visit Geechee Kunda,” Newby said. “We want to give them their own private cabin so they can stay there while enjoying the newly renovated Geechee Kunda.”
They plan to name a room, the Jim and Pat Bacote room. The room will contain some of the antiquities, a conference room and it would lead right to the Geechee Kunda Café.
“Where we plan to serve authentic Geechee Gullah Creole food,” she said.”
She added the City of Riceboro will benefit by having their first official restaurant within City limits.
“We were thinking about the people who work at Chemtall and the papermill,” Newby said. “Now they can get a real home cooked meal in the mornings and the afternoons.”
The Café will be open from 6 a.m. until either 3 or 4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. The Museum hours will be 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Newby said if they get enough volunteers, they will extend the Museum hours.
They are hoping to open around September and are currently working on creating class schedules that highlight cultural traditions, educational programs, arts and fashion.
They are bringing back the yearly Sugar Cane grinding festival hosted in November and the Gathering at Geechee Kunda typically help every April.
They are raising funds to help with the project and also to repair the van they plan to use to transport folks who need a free ride to Geechee Kunda.
“We want to make sure we can bring something beautiful not just for the Geechee Corridor but for Liberty County,” Newby said. “This is going to significantly place us as a historical site.”
If you wish to donate for the renovations visit: https://gofund.me/f43b9777
They have a new website at: https://www.geecheekunda.org/
There official Facebook Page has moved here: https://www.facebook.com/OfficialGeecheeKunda