Bridging Past and Future



The brochures may tell you that the story of Hilton Head Island was written in greens and fairways, but make no mistake: the true story of this island is the story of its people. 

In their new book, “Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge,” authors Carolyn Grant, Thomas C. Barnwell, Jr. and Emory Campbell present a meticulous history of the Gullah people, beginning with “the day of the big gun shoot.” It was on this day during the Civil War that Union forces took the island, scattering slave owners to the breeze and sowing the seeds of freedom. Tracing the story of freedom up to the present day, the book weaves together carefully researched historical records with personal stories of native islanders collected over the past 40 years.

“We've been working on this book for at least 20 years,” Barnwell said. “We also worked with a researcher/writer, who helped us dig into records like pension files that revealed a lot of history pertaining to Mitchelville, land ownership and peoples' lives during the period we wrote about.”

While the details shed new light on the island’s history before the bridge, it’s the personal stories that serve as the book’s most compelling narrative thread. All three authors are native islanders who have worked for years to ensure their Gullah culture is preserved. That dedication is evident in every page.

“There are so many books written about the history of Hilton Head Island and the Gullah culture, but none actually share our true history by people who lived it,” Campbell said. “We hope, from reading our book, that people will have a greater understanding of the island's African American history, including its Gullah culture and people.”

It’s an eye-opening look at the island’s true history. 

“We think people will be surprised at the sheer history of Gullah people on Hilton Head Island,” Grant said. “Through personal accounts, you get a glimpse into how people survived on this barrier island before the rest of the world even knew it existed.”

The book is available at Barnes & Noble, at and on