DAUFUSKIE ISLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – Sallie Ann Robinson has been fighting to preserve and share the history of Daufuskie Island for years.
Her efforts caught the attention of Oprah Winfrey, or “Miss O” as Robinson calls her, and she was featured in a spread for the July/August edition of O Magazine.
Robinson describes having a sheltered childhood growing up on the island as a sixth-generation native in a large Gullah family.
“We just thought we were doing everything people was and wasn’t,” said Robinson.
As she got older, she left the island and lived in Philadelphia and Savannah.
Her time away from Daufuskie allowed her to develop not only a stronger affection for her home but also sparked her desire to share the Gullah culture that is ingrained in the island.
She has written several of her own cookbooks, sharing traditional Gullah recipes, and has appeared in a number of other publications.
Regardless of where she went in life, she says the spirit of her ancestors kept bringing her back to the island.
“I would say, ‘Whew, why me?’ And the spirit would say, ‘Why not you?'” she said. “The spirits guide me here.”
WSAV.com NOW spent the day with Robinson on the island to learn more about her effort to protect, save and share the history and culture of Daufuskie.
From the classroom to the world
Much like the song, her journey started in the summer of 1969. That year, Pat Conroy came to Daufuskie to teach 18 native children on the island.
Robinson was one of his students and says it was “a treasure” to have him as their teacher.
She says that living on this island a few miles away from mainland South Carolina made them unaware of the outside world.
“Growing up on Daufuskie was a blessing and a curse because you were able to isolate yourself from certain things, but it was detrimental when we went out in the world,” she said.
Conroy, in her opinion, taught them lessons they had never learned and gave them new experiences so they were prepared to eventually leave the island.
He took the students to Beaufort to go trick-or-treating, he taught them about the Great Lakes and he even brought them to Washington D.C.
Showcasing the island’s history
Her experiences in Conroy’s class and living on the mainland made her realize how important it was to share the culture and history of the island with the world.
“I’m doing it so that the generations to come will have some idea or some information so they can understand the time before their time,” said Robinson.
She moved back to Daufuskie about four years ago and has since started her own tour, called Sallie Ann’s Authentic Gullah Tour.
The three-hour tour takes passengers to the only Gullah cemetery, the old schoolhouse and to other areas all across the island.
Robinson says her biggest fear is that people only see the island as a tourist destination and do not respect it for its rich culture and history.
“[The tourists] put us in jeopardy,” she said. “You get to go back to where you live. We have to stay here and deal with the situations they cause.”
She says she hopes the tours remind people there is still a community living on the island and that she can get enough money from the tours to restore some of the old Gullah homes that have fallen into disrepair.
“I know that I have a mission, that I’m going to continue until I can’t anymore,” she said. “My Pop used to say, ‘A house stays alive based on people’s breath. Minute you take it away, it starts to depreciate.'”
Aside from the tours, interviews for publications, recent features on shows for Netflix and work on Daufuskie’s historic foundation, Robinson works to take care of the only Gullah cemetery on the island.
She and other natives do all they can to preserve the cemetery, but she admits she needs help.
Still, whenever she’s asked about why she does all she does, she has one response.
“The spirits won’t let me not do it.”