Storyteller pays homage to Gullah heritage at Boone Hall Plantation
Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens was founded by Major John Boone, an Englishman who arrived in Charleston in the 1680s and established a plantation and grand home on the banks of Wampacheone Creek. The family and descendants of Major Boone would become influential in the history of South Carolina, the colonies and the nation.
But that’s not Boone Hall’s complete history; the family also owned slaves. As historic sites across America have increasingly sought to convey history with greater accuracy, Boone Hall Plantation & Gardens has developed “Black History in America” as part of its overall visitor experience.
As guests tour the plantation, which is located in Mount Pleasant, one person whom they may encounter is Jackie Mickel, one of the actors at “da Gullah Theater” at Boone Hall Plantation. Discover Charleston spoke with her about her mission to preserve history.
You’re a descendant of the Gullah people, whose indigenous African language, music, food, basket making and other cultural practices still survive. Tell us more about your heritage.
My mother is from St. George, South Carolina. My dad’s family is from Wadmalaw Island, and we can trace the family back to one of the plantations there. The Gullah culture is rich in my family — Geechie they called us, and originally it was derogatory — but I didn’t realize there was anything different about me until I went off to college at South Carolina State. One day, I was in the dorm room, and when it got hot I said, “Up the window.” The other girls gave me this funny look. It became clear that I sounded distinctly different. The Gullah people weren’t using the King’s English. We had our own language with a fast, rhythmic cadence.
How did you come to do storytelling at Boone Hall?
I’m a retired educator. I began doing this about six years ago through Fat Cat Productions. I’m one of several presenters who tell the history of the Gullah people through stories and songs. I’m dressed in a long skirt with a rope around my waist, and my head is covered. I often start off with a song, “Kumbayah,” which means “Come by here, my Lord.”
I understand that Boone Hall uses eight of the original slave cabins located on the plantation to delve into black history and slavery. Visitors are able to see the different aspects of daily life, how people worked and lived, struggles that they faced and more. How do audiences react to hearing about what life was like for the enslaved population at Boone Hall?
People show a range of emotions. I’ve had people come up to the stage in tears. Or begin apologizing for slavery and asking for forgiveness. Some of them are angry — angry at me, at the history. People on the plantation tour are coming from all over the country and world. Most of the visitors are white. African-Americans who visit tend to be with family reunion groups. Sometimes I wonder, “Where are our people?”
How does this affect you?
One day I said to myself, “Lord, why am I at this plantation?” I was looking at the moss in the oak trees, and it was as if the ancestors began speaking to me. They told me to tell our story, especially so that young people can hear it. So that’s my purpose. I’m here to tell the story.