The Wanderer Memory Trail (Jekyll Island, Georgia)

Looking through Golden Isles Visitor Guide distributed by Golden Isles Welcome Center: St. Simons Island. This particular section of the publication is entitled “How Tradition Took Root: The Golden Isles’ African-American Heritage”

From Friday May 31, 2019 – Saturday June 1, 2019, VisitBlackHistory.com spent time exploring the Georgia Sea Islands.

We began our journey at Friday’s Taste of Gullah which was hosted by the Saint Simons African American Heritage Coalition. The inaugural event was hosted in the Historic Harrington School’s outdoor area. While there, we were able to tour the historic building which has been restored and now functions as a culture keeper of both the school’s history and the Gullah Geechee community.

On Saturday we attended the 43rd Annual Georgia Sea Islands Festival. The festival, also hosted by Saint Simons African American Heritage Coalition, was held at Gascoigne Bluff Park. The main stage featured an array of cultural expressions including a literary reading by author Tina McElroy Ansa. There were a number of vendors selling food, shirts, books, and other memorabilia. The National Park Service Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor was even on hand, distributing free literature and small trinkets. After a bit of time, we decided to set out and explore the neighboring Georgia Sea Islands.

We stopped in the Golden Isles Welcome Center on St. Simons Island and picked up a copy of the Golden Isles Visitor Guide. In it, we found an article entitled “How Tradition Took Root: The Golden Isles’ African-American Heritage” which gave a brief narrative about and addresses to African American heritage sites on St. Simons Island, Jekyll Island, and Brunswick. We decided “The Wanderer Memorial” on Jekyll Island would be our next destination.

One of the first interpretive signs along The Wanderer Memorial or as this sign reads, the Wanderer Memory Trail.

The Wanderer Memorial is an interactive trail located at St. Andrews Park on Jekyll Island. Initially a large metal sculpture in the St. Andrews Picnic Area memorialized survivors of the last known slave ship to land in the United States, the Wanderer. In an e-mail exchange with John Bennett, The Jekyll Island Authority’s Marketing Communications Manager he noted, “when the original metal structure began to wear from the salt air, the Jekyll Island Authority Historic Resources department collaborated with historians and survivors’ descendants to expand the memorial from a single sculpture to an interactive trail for all ages. The Wanderer Memory Trail offers a deeper understanding of the lasting contributions and impacts of the Wanderer survivors.”

Interpretive panel, with a list of Wanderer Survivors
Panel interpreting the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the significance of the yacht Wanderer

Dr. Deborah Mack, Office of Strategic Partnerships National Museum of African American History & Culture Smithsonian Institution, Melissa Jest, African American Programs Coordinator Georgia Historic Preservation Division (SHPO), Christine King Mitchell, Old Slave Mart Museum (Charleston, SC), Dr. Althea Natlaga Sumter, Federal Commissioner Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission, Velma Maia Thomas, Andrea Marroquin, Curator for the Jekyll Island Authority, Bruce Piatek, Director of Historic Resources for the Jekyll Island Authority, Curt Bowman, Exhibit Designer, and Brian Beauchamp.

View of beach at St. Andrews Park
Interactive sound player. Once pressed the song “Motherless Child” plays.

The Wanderer Memory Trail was designed by Curtis Bowman of the Hughes Bowman Design Group, which is based out of Richmond, Virginia. Installation of the exhibit required collaboration between several local agencies including the JIA Conservation, Landscape, Facilities, and Historic Resources departments.

Example of enslaved person’s home. Visitors can walk inside the tiny space.
Interactive display that interprets the use of makeshift instruments by enslaved people.
Interactive display that interprets the authentic foods prepared and grown by enslaved persons and their descendants. Particularly people of the Georgia Sea Islands, Gullah Geechee, and West African descent.
Panel interpreting the history of enslaved persons, post-Civil War.

The memorial unveiling took place on Saturday November 17, 2018. Griffin Lotson and Althea Natalga Sumter of the Gullah Geechee Heritage Corridor Commission were among those in attendance.

Panel interpreting the legacy of the Wanderer survivors and how their heritage and traditions live on through their descendants.

The Wanderer Memory Trail is open daily to the public. Free. Located at St. Andrews Beach Park, Jekyll Island, GA 31527. To learn more about this invigorating cultural attraction, visit https://www.jekyllisland.com/history/wanderer-memory-trail/

Leave a Reply