Cornelia Bailey was born and raised on Sapelo Island. From a very young age, Cornelia knew she had a special purpose in life. As the island’s treasured ways of life and long-lasting traditions were met with great change, Cornelia dedicated herself to keeping the names and stories of the island’s history alive, preserving her community’s place on the island, and providing a future on the island for generations to come.
All of those elements of Cornelia’s mission come to life in her memoir, God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island. From the legends, songs, and customs that bound the Geechee community together, to the heartfelt and loving depictions of her family and their daily life, Cornelia builds an important document of history for an island and a community that is under threat of being silenced and forgotten.
Cornelia discusses the importance of learning and remembering one’s history, that it makes you feel more complete so that you can be aware of who you are and who you can be: “I want to know everything I can about our history and our culture. It’s when your heritage is denied and robbed that you hurt inside and you feel like there is something missing” (pg. 330).
Her memoir allows not only her fellow Sapelo Geechee community members, but also readers from all over, to learn about the people who fostered Sapelo’s spirit and growth; who did the hard labor of clearing the land and utilizing its resources; who gave special names to everything from the different times of day to the flora and fauna with whom they shared the island; who survived slavery and displacement, and created their own communities, passing down traditions that can be traced back to West Africa.
God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man honors the memory of the people of Sapelo, lays bare the pain and hardships they faced and continue to face, and celebrates the joy, love, and resilience at the heart of the community. We will share some of our favorite anecdotes from the memoir in posts to come, but to be fully immersed in the story, you can find a link to purchase Cornelia’s memoir below.