Louise Miller Cohen is a native of Hilton Head Island and therefore has experienced the Gullah culture first hand. Her latest role in preserving this unique culture, which she has been doing for the past ten years, is that of Gullah storyteller.
Community elders have passed the torch on to her and she has adopted the mission of preserving the Gullah/Geechee heritage and culture. Ms. Cohen accomplishes this by telling tales, singing gospel songs, proudly speaking and teaching the Gullah language, sharing knowledge of plants used for medicine, preparing Gullah cuisine, performing the “Ring Shout” and making homemade wine from mulberries and other seasonal fruits. She believes that as these rituals are performed in the presence of children and their parents, the rituals will be passed down from generation to generation and the Gullah/Geechee culture will be preserved forever. Her most current vision is to restore the houses that she grew up in, which will become part of the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island. This museum will give children of all ages, locals, and tourists the experience of what life was like on Hilton Head Island before the bridge to the mainland was built in 1956.
Since 2003, she has been the founder and director of the nonprofit Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island. Years ago, Ms. Cohen said that she kept reading that the Gullah language and lifestyle were becoming “extinct”. Her entry into Gullah storytelling and historical preservation started with her involvement in Hilton Head Island’s Annual Gullah Celebration. Ms. Cohen stepped out of what she calls her “shell of shame” and began to share her Gullah culture with others. Since that time, she has organized committees and appeared at the Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration (sponsored annually on the island by the Native Island Business and Community Affairs Association), the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, numerous church and school programs, local and regional festivals, college campuses and conferences in the Southeast. In 2007, she received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Advocacy Award.
The winner was selected by an advisory panel appointed by the South Carolina Lieutenant Governor and the Speaker of the House, and administered by the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and the South Carolina Arts Commission. She has been interviewed on NPR’s Weekend America, and appeared on the cover of Bluffton Today, in The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet. Ms. Cohen also received a Lifetime of Leadership Award nomination from the Civitas Award Organization, and in January, 2010 she received the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Service Award at the Town of Hilton Head Island’s Annual Martin Luther King Day Celebration. In 2007, she was appointed a South Carolina Commissioner to the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. She has been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles and on television.
Louise Miller Cohen has an associate degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Carolina at Beaufort and currently is a Teaching Artist with the Lowcountry Arts Integration Project at Whale Branch Middle School, Whale Branch Elementary School and St. Helena Elementary School. Ms. Cohen is in the process of writing an autobiography which will also include information about Gullah traditions and rituals. Ms. Cohen is the mother of four children, grandmother of five and greatgrandmother of one. She enjoys gardening, singing, walking and cooking traditional Gullah recipes. Source: Gullahmuseumhhi.org