Sharing the Culture

July 28, 2023

Written by Amy Coyne Bredeson I Photography by Ritterbeck Photography

A sixth-generation Gullah native of Hilton Head Island, Sonya Grant has fond memories of growing up in the island’s close-knit Gullah community.

Grant, now 35, grew up surrounded by her people, direct descendants of West Africans who were enslaved in the Lowcountry and lived in Mitchelville, the country’s first self-governed town for formerly enslaved people. She grew up enjoying the unique culture of the Gullah people — the cuisine, the arts, crafts, music, customs and language of her ancestors.

“It wasn’t necessarily told to me, ‘This is Gullah,’” Grant said. “It’s just the natural traditions and the things that we did as a family.”

Things like eating rice every day and practicing the traditions of the Gullah church.

Just as her ancestors had done generations prior, Grant was baptized in the river, wearing a white robe and head covering. Around the age of 6, she marched with fellow Christians across the street from Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Squire Pope Road to Skull Creek near Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks, singing hymns all the way there and back.  

Grant knew at a young age that she wanted to be a fashion designer. Inspired by the rich culture of the Gullah people and the entrepreneurial spirit of family members, Grant was able to accomplish her dream by launching Gullah T’s N’ Tings.

In June 2020, she began selling her signature Gullah-themed T-shirts on Etsy. Three years later she has expanded her business to include sweatshirts, scarves, hats, mugs, beach towels, jewelry and leather bags. Her products can be found on Etsy as well as her website.

Grant emphasized that Gullah T’s N’ Tings is not just for Gullah people. People often ask if they should wear her apparel if they are not Gullah.
She answers that question with a resounding “yes.”

“It’s culture appreciation as opposed to appropriation,” Grant said. “We all have to treasure it in order for it to sustain.”

Grant encourages people to learn about the Gullah culture and its local history by reading “Gullah Days: Hilton Head Islanders Before the Bridge 1861-1956.” The book was written by her aunt Carolyn Grant, along with two other Gullah descendants Thomas C. Barnwell Jr. and Emory Shaw Campbell.

“The movement can’t continue without everyone involved,” Sonya said.

She was raised in the Chaplin neighborhood of Hilton Head by her mother, Terry Grant, her aunt Carolyn, and her grandparents Charliemae and Abe Grant. For decades, her grandparents owned a popular island restaurant, Abe’s Native Shrimp House, which served traditional Gullah dishes, such as shrimp and grits.

Sonya said there were many more Gullah-owned businesses on the island when she was a child compared to now. She had her hair done at a Gullah salon. Her family frequented Grant’s Mini Mart, Driessen’s Grocery & Service Station, and her great-aunt’s produce stands. Many of her teachers in grade school were also Gullah.
Sonya wants to ensure the Gullah way of life is not lost and wants to share the beauty of it with the world.

“I want the people that visit to be enthusiastic to learn about the culture here,” she said, “and get excited about things other than just the beach and resort life, but really get invested in what the natives have built here.”

Sonya hopes to continue expanding her business with new designs and products available within the next year, and to have more pieces readily available for purchase.
“None of it would’ve been possible without the help of my family and the community,” Sonya said.

To view Sonya’s creations, visit or search for “GullahTsNTings” on Follow Gullah T’s N’ Tings on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.