Cornelia Walker Bailey
African American participation in marine-related careers began as early as 1796, when the federal government issued Seamen’s Protection Certificates to merchant mariners defining them as “citizens” of the United States effectively making maritime employment one way for Blacks to shape their identities. This collection This project documents the fishery-related occupations of African Americans in coastal Georgia 1865 to present and gather information for future work that may ascertain the relationship between their decreased participation and changes in regional fish populations and the fishing industry.
Michelle Duncan, PhD.
Mrs. Cornelia Walker Bailey, a prominent historian on Sapelo Island—Georgia’s fourth largest barrier island only accessible by ferry, boat, or plane—was born on June 12, 1945. Mrs. Bailey’s family tree and presence on the island is well documented and can be traced back to her ancestors who purchased the island after the end of slavery. Mrs. Bailey witnessed first-hand the changes that occurred in her Gullah-Geechee community and dedicated her life to preserving traditions, oral histories, and the land of the Gullah-Geechee people. Mrs. Bailey continued to raise awareness about the issues present in the Gullah-Geechee community until her death in 2017.
Scope and Content Note
Mrs. Bailey recalls how and when fishing occurred and the significance for the men, whom each owned a cast net, to provide for their family. She recalls that while her father was at work, her mother fished during the day, catching yellowtail and red drum, and when he returned he would night fish for mullet. The catch was sold or shared and was the foundation of their social structure on and off the island. Mrs. Bailey recognized, through her travels, that customs, fishing practices, and foods on Sapelo Island were similar to West Africa. Additionally, she recognized that the tradition of African American fishing had declined because of more educational opportunities. The struggle between education and honoring cultural practices continues to present problems for the Gullah-Geechee community.
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