Taking My 2% to Heritage Days

I took a DNA test a year ago. The results showed that I have approximately 2% African. Nothing would do except to go to the Heritage Days celebration at the Penn Center.

Sugar and I went to the Penn Center last year as part of a history group that was taking a tour. This was going to be very different.

Heritage Days Celebration is a three-day cultural event celebrating the Gullah/Geechee/Sea Island history, folk arts, food, music, crafts and West African cultural legacy.

Located at Penn Center—formerly the Penn School, one of the first schools for formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants living on St. Helena Island—visitors can experience the unique setting of the 50-acre historic campus of Penn Center.

Sugar wasn’t sure he could go to the festival because he has crowd anxiety. I made it easy for him to decide that he shouldn’t go by saying that I was meeting Toni Carrier who was representing the International African American Museum and it might be hard for him to hang around, what with the crowds and meeting people. So he stayed home with the dogs and cats.

There was a parade scheduled on Saturday from 9-11am, so I figured I’d go after that since they block Martin Luther King Drive on St. Helena. I didn’t know that the road STAYS blocked, and you have to park on the Sea Island Parkway and walk the mile or so to the Penn Center. Yet I found out when I got there, and I walked it anyway.


There is a center stage with activities going on all day, like singing, storytelling, dancing, and music. There are vendors of arts and crafts, and produce, and food. Oh my. The food.


There was a line at every food vendor. The one with the shortest line featured grilled and curried foods, like chicken, shrimp, and goat, plus rice and cooked cabbage, and other things that I can’t remember now.


I visited with Toni and looked at her great handouts regarding research. You can follow her on Facebook along with the progress of the fundraising and construction of the IAAM.

There was an enormous crowd of hundreds of people under the live oaks. Perfect crisp fall weather reminded us how good it was to be here.


Vendors were selling local produce. I waited in a line to buy some rutabagas for Sugar. This particular stand was also selling turnips and turnip greens, collards, persimmon fruit, apples, oranges, sweet potatoes, and sugar cane, and probably more that I can’t remember. People were actually walking around eating sugar cane. I’ve never seen that before.


On the walk back to the car, there is a section of marsh, and I spotted a great egret sunning himself. If you zoom in on one of the photos, the images start to fragment and look like an oil painting, as if you can see the actual brushstrokes.

A couple of men walked by, and one of them called out, ” Did you get it?”, meaning did I get the photograph of the bird. I could only nod yes, and could not speak because I was so full of contentment of this wonderful experience.


From the other side…


Across the road…


So y’all know what you need to do next year.


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6 Responses to “Taking My 2% to Heritage Days”

  1. Liz Dunster Says:

    Ruth, where is St Helena?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ruth Rawls Says:

    It is one island in a chain of the barrier islands that starts in Beaufort. Beaufort, Lady’s Island, St. Helena Island, Harbor Island, Hunting Island, and Fripp Island.


  3. Emily Says:

    Lovely! Sounds like a great event!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ruth Rawls Says:

      It’s like a well-kept secret! There wasn’t a printed program, so I missed meeting Frederick DeShon Murphy, who spoke at 3pm inside the center. I left at 2:30! I have been corresponding with him for years about his father-in-law’s family from St. Peter’s Parish. I was so bummed when I found out I missed him.


  4. Randi Schultz Says:

    My DNA came back showing about the same percentage of African blood. This whole journey is just fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

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