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Congress agrees on something: Preserving the culture of slave descendants

Efforts to preserve South Carolina’s Gullah culture in the Lowcountry will continue to receive federal funds for five more years.

The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission, which manages a four-state corridor along with the National Park Service, was reauthorized by the Senate on Thursday. It was originally set to expire in October.

The commission works to preserve the distinctive blend of African and European heritage and traditions known as Gullah in the Carolinas and Geechee in Georgia and Florida. The culture is a result of generations of former slaves who lived in relative isolation in the Sea Islands.

South Carolina’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Clyburn, authored the legislation that created the commission in 2006 as well as the reauthorization bill. On Friday, he said he was “extremely pleased” that Congress had agreed to the extension.

“I was proud to get legislation passed creating a commission to preserve and protect the Gullah Geechee culture, which is increasingly endangered and deserving of protection,” Clyburn, the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement on Friday. “The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is a unique effort dedicated to preserving not just a historical resource, but a living, breathing culture.”

Clyburn has said that creating the commission was “one of my proudest achievements in Congress.”

“I began my career as a high school history teacher in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, and I believe we have an obligation to preserve the rich history of this country,” he said on Friday.

The bill will now go to President Barack Obama’s desk for his signature.

The Gullah Geechee corridor stretches from Wilmington, North Carolina, down to Jacksonville, Florida. The 15 members of the commission – six from South Carolina, and three each from North Carolina, Georgia and Florida – are appointed by the secretary of the interior. The commission is headquartered on Johns Island in South Carolina.

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