The Muslim Journal Vol. 18, No. 30 May 14, 1993
By Sabir Kasib Muhammad
The historic city of Charleston, S.C. speaks volumes to the seeker of knowledge about the “coming-to-America” of Africans made into slaves and their sojourn once here in America.
Whether it is in its distinctive architecture, its beautiful rivers, its delightful people or the relics of a time passed, African Americans who visit this beautiful city can’t help but feel a closeness within their souls to their early ancestors who arrived here from Africa as slaves.
Alphonso brown, owner of Gullah Tours in Charleston, gave a splendid tour of this historic city complete with anecdotes from a past that he carries proudly in his Gullah ancestry.
“Gullah is a creolized form of English revealing survivals from many of the African languages spoken by the slaves who were brought to South Carolina and Georgia during the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century,” said Mr. Brown as he broke into an animated spiel of the broken English dialect. It is still spoken today among the Gullahs of Charleston and its surrounding islands.
During a two-hour tour of downtown Charleston, Mr. Brown gave us a thorough history of Charleston replete with the many contributions of slaves and former slaves to its history, culture and economy. He also pointed out the various sites of African American influence within the city.
Throughout the tour Mr. Brown would point with pride to one piece of work after another crafted by 80-year-old Charleston blacksmith Philip Simmons. The distinctive flair with which Mr. Simmons works embellished Charleston could only reflect a dynamic person.
As we headed down Broad Street in the heart of downtown Charleston with Mr. Brown reciting the historical legacy of each individual street, building and artifacts, we came upon the building that was built in 1798 that served as one of the Freedman’s Bank, a national bank for blacks. These banks were created to aid blacks in their reconstruction efforts following the Civil War and are particularly associated with the promise of “40 acres and a mule.”
On East Bay Street we came upon the huge Old Exchange and customhouse built between 1767-71 that was used for the selling of slaves. As we drove down Chalmers Street, Mr. Brown pointed out the Old Slave Mart Museum where following the prohibition of selling slaves at the Custom House, slaves were sold here and many other sites along the streets. This mart was known as Ryan’s Mart and was established in 1852 with a black portion, which contained rooms in the auction block hidden from public view.
“Here in Charleston, we blacks refer to Sullivan’s Island as our Ellis Island,” said Mr. Brown. “We have no ties to Ellis Island in New York. I remember reading an article in a magazine about the lack of patriotism as far as blacks were concerned when they were refurbishing the Statue of Liberty. Well, I like the Statue of Liberty and I think it’s nice,” said Mr. Brown, “but I have no ties with it. It’s not my Ellis Island. There (as he pointed across the Ashley River) is our Ellis Island – Sullivan’s Island where between 40-80% of slaves were brought into this country.
Though the all-encompassing tour last two hours, Mr. Brown was such a great host and imparted such great knowledge about the great contributions of the African American people that it felt as though it was only a few minutes.