Black History Month began as Negro History Week in 1926, before expanding to a month long celebration in 1976, according to history.com. In Liberty County, black history can be dated back to the rice plantations in Riceboro.
“There’s no such thing as black history month, we celebrate black history 365 days a year,” local historian Gregory Grant said. “Liberty County is the only county in Georgia that’s named for a concept, not a person.”
According to Grant, Liberty County’s coastal region had similarities with the coast of West Africa where rice was grown. Once early colonists discovered Georgia’s coastline was perfect for growing rice, many enslaved people worked on rice plantations.
In the 1800’s Sunbury was a busy port where rice and indigo were the main crops worked by hundreds of slaves. According to the city of Hinesville, in 1851 there were about 100 plantations along the county’s coast. Only six of these plantations were larger than 100 acres and had more than 100 slaves.
During this time the emergence of the Gullah-Geechee culture was developed. According to nps.gov, the Gullah/ Geechee people are descendants of enslaved Africans from various ethnic groups of west and central Africa. The culture included a creole dialect, which can still be heard in Liberty County today.
“During that time, we could talk amongst ourselves and overseers would not understand what we were saying.” Grant said.
After the end of the Civil War, rice growing ended after all the slaves were freed. Many plantations were abandoned or sold to freed slaves in small sections. From there some slaves began share cropping due to lack of education.
Just outside of Midway, the Dorchester Academy began operating in 1870 to educate local freed African Americans. The school was founded by the American Missionary Association. The academy would go on to be one of the 11 stops on the U.S. Civil Rights trail based on its importance during the Civil Rights Movement.
Next week the Courier will look into the importance Liberty County played during the Civil Rights Movement and after.