A native of Hilton Head Island, Louise Miller Cohen is able to trace her island roots back into the 1800s. Her homeplace still stands on property owned by her great grandfather – property purchased soon after the Civil War. Cohen grew up at the knees of her Gullah relatives, listening to the stories and hearing the unique language. She vividly remembers life on Hilton Head Island “before the bridge.”
Cohen is an integral part of the staff that develops and plans the annual Hilton Head Island Gullah Celebration and for the past several years has been an active performer. Her repertoire includes a healthy complement of Gullah stories, shouts, and dances.
Much like the dynamic variety of regional accents throughout South Carolina, the Gullah language also has dialect variations. Cohen became aware there was no real public voice representing the Hilton Head variation of Gullah. She had found her niche and has not stopped educating the public since. Working with other Gullah artists and advocates, Cohen ensures that visitors to the Sea Islands will have the chance to learn about indigenous coastal culture.
For most of the 20th century, Gullah culture was not appreciated by the general public or by members of the community – the language and other forms of cultural expression were not considered worthy of attention or praise. Only through the hard work and tireless efforts of folks like Cohen are people throughout the region and the nation learning to appreciate and celebrate the vibrancy of Gullah culture. Gullah is now featured on an international stage.
Louise Miller Cohen expresses herself artistically in many ways – through storytelling, dance, singing gospel and shouts, and Gullah cuisine. She also brings extensive knowledge of medicinal plants to her educational presentations. A mother of four and grandmother of five, Cohen is also working tirelessly to establish the Hilton Head Island Gullah Museum, an organization devoted to preserving Gullah/Geechee culture for generations to come.
Cohen shares her storytelling to a diverse audience – churches and elementary schools, local and regional festivals, college campuses, and conferences throughout the region. Cohen received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2007.