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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Vignette about an impoverished Gullah woman

Dabbs offers a vignette describing an impoverished, Gullah-speaking woman on St. Helena Island. Her story provides an intersting look into that distinctive culture and region. Dabbs does not give a specific date or date range for her anecdote, although it likely occurred sometime during the mid-twentieth century. Dabbs later wrote two books about the people of St. Helena Island in 1970 and in 1983.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Edith Mitchell Dabbs, October 4, 1975. Interview G-0022. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Now, you know that is not just any kind of people. As I said, I hadn't realized in terms of time, until the other day. It is just one of the little examples of what it is about those people that you see in other ways. The way they kept going after the big natural disasters just has to arouse your admiration.
ELIZABETH JACOWAY BURNS:
The way that they have always aspired to better themselves.
EDITH MITCHELL DABBS:
Yes, and they have a certain kind of humility, that only the strong can have. They can take suggestion and instruction and be helped. Not everybody can do that. They know that is what is happening, but they are glad to have it and they don't resent the people who give it to them. That is more than I can say for some of the present day staff they have down there even with all their advantages. But the people of the island, it seems to me, are very remarkable people. I have seen such terrible poverty there that it just tears you to look at it—tragic needs, but the people somehow can be hospitable, they do little gracious things without having anything to do it with. I remember one woman particularly who walked like a princess. She wasn't ragged and she wasn't dirty, but she couldn't have been more simply dressed. Late one afternoon, I was riding along by myself looking for someplace that I hadn't been able to find yet … it may have been when I was looking for Tombee 4. * Tom B. Chaplin plantation But anyhow, I was riding along very slowly and I slowed down some more when I saw approaching me along the shoulder of the road, a woman carrying a big white enamel dishpan under her arm kind of on one hip. Behind her was a boy of about eight or so. It was hard to tell, he wasn't very big and I had the feeling that he was quite small for his age, but he was still a young boy. They had been fishing, this mother and her little boy and they were coming along just about supper time. I thought of something to ask her and stopped and asked her. I couldn't understand two words she said because it was pure Gullah, but as musical as it could be. And she stood there with that pan poised on her hip, with her back as straight as an arrow, but relaxed, very gracious and giving me the information that I wanted. It wasn't her fault that I couldn't understand it. I let her talk a little bit just to hear it. I thanked her, asked something about the fish, something that I didn't have to ask her, what kind it was or where she got it or something. She had caught a great big old fish, it was too big for any bass … I don't know, it could have been, but it was one huge fish and it filled up that dishpan or whatever it was. It had been skinned apparently and was gleaming white. It had been dressed and washed at the water and it was ready for supper. She was going home to cook supper for her family. She had done this thing herself and had had some pleasure while she was doing it. She had rested, she had lived with her little boy. You just felt that she was handling her life as though she had chosen her life style and she was doing exactly what she wanted to do. I felt sure that in that situation she would naturally want things a little easier, but maybe she didn't. She knew the richness of what she did have like I couldn't understand it at all. I thought maybe you were a princess one time. On that island were princes. I mean, people whose ancestors who came there were princes. I've come across a couple of very interesting stories about that.