Cornelia Walker Bailey (cq) sits on a bateau on the edge of a Sapelo Island salt marsh. This bateau is one of the two traditional hand-made Geechee boats that still survives on the island. (BEN GRAY/STAFF)

Cornelia Walker Bailey, prominent barrier island resident, dies

Cornelia Walker Bailey was as much a part of Sapelo Island and the historic Hog Hammock community as the long and narrow seagrass and the saltwater that beats against the shores.

Bailey, the community’s most prominent spokeswoman and keeper of the Georgia barrier island’s African American rich heritage, died Sunday.

Her death was confirmed by her husband, Julius Bailey.


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In 2000, Bailey published her memoir, “God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man: A Saltwater Geechee Talks About Life on Sapelo Island, Georgia,” that detailed her life on the island, which is only accessible by boat.

According to Georgia, she was born on Sapelo on June 12, 1945, to Hettie Bryant and Hicks Walker.

She once said: “We don’t want to lose the meaning of what a lot of gnats mean, how fresh-dug sweet potatoes taste cooked in hot ashes. I am Sapelo and all the hundreds of others who are descendants; we who remain here is Sapelo. We are one, bound by the spirit of an island and Bulallah the slave. Bound by high tide, fields, gossips, smoke mullet, and our faith.

“And I musn’t forget we are all surrounded by big water and have to be close to each other, real close!”

Read and sign the online guestbook for Cornelia Walker Bailey

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