The Connecticut professors will share not only their findings but also the firsthand sources of their research to the visiting teachers next summer. Teachers selected for the workshop after applying by March 3 will join Stephens and Junda in Savannah for tours of African-American landmarks in Georgia’s oldest city.
They’ll also take a field trip to St. Helena Island, S.C., to visit the Penn Center, formerly a school established in 1862 that educated freed slaves that’s now home to a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Gullah history and traditions. Back in Georgia the group will cross the water from the mainland to Sapelo Island, where about 50 slave descendants still live in the tiny community of Hog Hammock.
Sapelo native Cornelia Bailey, who was born on the island in 1945, has become Hog Hammock’s pre-eminent storyteller and keeper of the community’s oral history. The professors have tapped her to share that history with the visiting teachers next summer.
“The teaching aspect of it I love because the more you spread the word the more respect there is for a culture that’s endangered,” Bailey said. “And teachers are the best people to spread the word.”
Emory Shaw Campbell of Hilton Head Island, S.C., agrees. He’ll be working with the group in South Carolina, where Campbell is a former Penn Center director. He recently headed a commission designated by Congress to study ways to promote and preserve Gullah culture in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida.
Campbell said he hopes the teachers visiting next summer will take lessons about Gullah history and traditions far beyond the Southeast coast to schools in other regions where children may otherwise never learn of them.
“Not enough grade school and high school teachers know about Gullah culture, which is the root of African-American culture,” Campbell said. “People say that unless you know yourself, you really find it difficult to function in this world. I think it’s important for kids to know their history, know their origin, know why they look the way they do and speak the way they do.”