North Carolina Rice Festival Set for March


Jerry May, NC Rice Festival Board Member

The 2023 North Carolina Rice Festival (NCRF) is scheduled for Thursday-Saturday, March 2-4, with events in three locations: March 2, a “Reveal” party at the Navassa Community Center for citizens DNA tested to determine their ancestral roots; March 3, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Gala at the Leland Cultural Arts Center; and March 4, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Festival at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson.

The NCRF has become a significant event within the  Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor, a National Heritage area established by the US Congress to recognize the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee people who have traditionally resided in the coastal areas from Jacksonville, FL to Jacksonville, NC.

The Rice Festival event is supported by the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, as well as the Town of Leland and the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

At the Reveal Party, participants will learn the details of their ancestry. NCRF arranged for DNA testing of citizens in partnership with African Ancestry, Inc., an organization which helps people of African descent trace their ancestral roots back to a specific present-day African country and tribe/ethnic group. The event will be open to the public.

The third Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Gala will again be catered by renowned Gullah Chef Keith Rhodes and his Catch restaurant and feature traditional Gullah cuisine.  Entertainment will be provided by Aunt Pearlie Sue and her nationally recognized group, The Gullah Kinfolk (pictured). Organizers expect the Gala to sell out again. Tickets are $115 and go on sale  in early January, with more information available then on the NCRF website.

The final event of the weekend will be the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Festival  from 10 am-6 pm March 4 at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson, a North Carolina Historic site, located off Rt. 133, between Leland and Southport along the Cape Fear River.  The free Festival will feature a series of historic and cultural presentations, tours of the historic site, nearly seven hours of entertainment featuring both Gullah related and local performers, and a special area for youth featuring several Gullah storytellers and other activities.

The selection of the site for the Festival is significant.  During its 50-year existence in the 1700’s, before being destroyed and abandoned in the Revolutionary War, Brunswick Town was surrounded by rice plantations. It was the northernmost port along the Cape Fear River accessible by ocean-going vessels, so all imports and exports to and from the Cape Fear region flowed through the port.  This included nearly 1,000 slaves brought from Africa, whose first step in America came at Brunswick Town.

Festival Highlights
Featured presentations will include Sunn m’Cheaux, AKA The Gullah Professor, who teaches Gullah Language in the African Language Program at Harvard University. His presentation will discuss the history of the Gullah language and some of its phrases and words which have a connection to words and phrases common today.

Another featured speaker will be Herman (Tyrone) Hill, an artist, musician and historical storyteller who is a direct descendant of Gullah Geechee people who worked on the rice plantations on Eagles Island. In his presentation, he will discuss the history of Eagles Island and share stories passed down by his ancestors related to working in the rice fields on the island.

The Festival entertainment will be presented on the Come Hear, NC Stage, a special project of the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources designed to promote North Carolina musicians. The entertainment lineup will include North Carolina based performers Blues DeVille, Herman Hill, Imperial Eclipse Reggae Band, Ian Daviz, Blackwater R&B Band (headline group) and nationally recognized Gullah group, Aunt Pearlie Sue and The Gullah Kinfolk.

In addition, there will be a number of Gullah and other artisans exhibiting their crafts, art and products.  Several food trucks will also be on site. For more information about the NCRF events and directions,  visit: