Cornelia Bailey (b. 1945)
As a member of the last generation of African Americans born and educated on Sapelo Island, Cornelia Bailey as become one of Georgia's most vocal defenders of her homeland and its African American heritage. Sapelo Island, a barrier island off the southern coast of Georgia, has protected the state's interior for thousands of years. Although the island has withstood countless hurricanes and the arrival of colonial settlers, a new threat has come to the people of Sapelo—the threat of industrial development.
Bailey traces her lineage back to an African Muslim named Bul-Allah (or Bilali), who worked as the head slavemanager for the island's owner, cotton planter Thomas Spalding. Cornelia Bailey and her family, like many of Sapelo's natives, are direct descendants of West African slaves, many of whom (like Bilali) were Muslim. Over time, the different cultures living on Sapelo Island have blended together and become what Bailey calls the Geechee culture. A combination of Christian and Islamic religious beliefs, the Geechee culture on Sapelo Island has remained virtually unchanged, thanks to the island's geographic isolation.
BaileySt. Simons Island for some years. As of 2005 she lives on Sapelo with her husband, Julius "Frank" Bailey, and two of her sons. Bailey has become Sapelo's "griot," an African term for the tribal historian who, in Bailey's own words, keeps "the oral history of the tribe, as it [has been] passed down for thousands of years." She and her husband conduct tours of the island and teach others about their community's rich and treasured history.
Bailey Governor's Award in the Humanities in recognition of her work on behalf of the African American population of Sapelo Island and the Geechee culture.
Media Gallery: Cornelia Bailey (b. 1945)