Chances are, you’ve probably never heard of Bolden, Georgia. Not many people have.
The small community in McIntosh County is just off Interstate 95 on Highway 99.
In the Briar Patch community– sits Mt. Cavalry Baptist Church– home of the McIntosh County Shouters– Master Artists of the Authentic Ring Shout.
Brenton Jordan describes it this way. “The academic description of the ring shout is an impressive fusion of call and response sending rhythm and hand clapping and rhythm and percussion along with dance-like movement– because we don’t say that word dancing. Due to religious rules against dancing that prevent shouters from raising their feet high off the floor or crossing one foot over the other. So, they move in a shuffling fashion that’s very characteristic of religious dancing.”
You could call them the ‘keepers of culture.’
Related— either by birth or marriage– the sound and the movements of the Shouters are just as unique as the stories they tell.
Brenton Jordan is the youngest member. He’s also the ‘stick-man.’
“We are a family from the bloodline of Amy and London Jenkins, who have kept and maintained the ring shout which is the oldest African American song and dance tradition still surviving in the U.S. since slavery.”
Vanessa Carter is the narrator.
“What I do is, whenever we have a performance, I come out ahead of the shouters. I give a small narrative– sometimes not so small– of what the upcoming song that they’re going to perform, what it’s based on. I give the story behind the song and it leads up to the performance song.
Like this one entitled– Jubilee.
“That is a performance that the shouters usually did as a celebration of Emancipation from slavery.
Passed down from generation to generation, the ring shout is a 300-year-old tradition– once commonly practiced throughout coastal Georgia and South Carolina.
Today, it can only be found here.
Jordan believes there are several reasons it failed to survive anywhere else.
“One being, wanting to become with their European counter parts. Another comes from the fact that our family, we were really isolated. We were the only ones here. There were no other families in this area. So, to have seven sisters and their host of children maintaining this tradition, it had no reason, it could not go anywhere.”
But nearly 40 years ago– back in 1980– the Shouters decided to share their tradition with the rest of the world.
Now they travel the country— racking up recognition wherever they go.
In 1993, they received the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. Here they are at a concert in Washington, DC.
They’ve performed at the Kennedy Center and Library of Congress.
They also took part in the opening ceremonies for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Countless articles, documentaries, even a book has been published.
“And we hope that we open other people’s eyes to say ok well, maybe we have something like that we can go back to and have a place that we can feel more connected and at home with each other.”
That connection has kept them strong through the years– and in time their goal is to do as their ancestors did– protect and preserve this nearly forgotten piece of history– by passing it on.
You can hear more from the McIntosh County Shouters on their CD, ‘Spirituals and Shout Songs from the Georgia Coast.’
The collection is part of the African American Legacy Series, co-presented with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Learn more about the McIntosh Ring Shouters here.