Cornelia Bailey, Champion of African-Rooted Culture in Coastal Georgia, Dies at 72

Historians in the News
tags: obituary, Cornelia Bailey

Cornelia Bailey, a vivid storyteller who fought to protect a vanishing slice of African-American culture on Sapelo Island, off the coast of Georgia, died on Sunday in Brunswick, Ga. She was 72.

Inez Grovner, president of the Sapelo Island Cultural and Revitalization Society, which Ms. Bailey helped found and where she was vice president, confirmed the death. The cause was not announced.

Ms. Bailey was among a shrinking number of people to have been born and educated on the island, where descendants of slaves have lived for generations, the isolation of island life allowing them to retain elements of West African traditions, language and religion that have become known as Gullah-Geechee culture.

That culture has been threatened over the decades by dispersion and, most recently, development pressures and high taxes. Ms. Bailey, as the unofficial historian of Sapelo, was among the leaders of efforts to preserve and pass along the island’s heritage, ends that she furthered through advocacy, entrepreneurialism and activities that included a fall cultural festival.

“She would always present the culture to anyone she could get across to,” said her friend Carletha Sullivan of the McIntosh County Shouters, a performance group that practices the tradition known as ring shouting. “If she knew someone who could do something pertaining to the Gullah-Geechee culture, she would always try to open a doorway for them.” ...

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