Two one-week workshops for eighty schoolteachers to explore the history and cultural memory of the Gullah people through the arts.
In collaboration with The Penn Center in St. Helena, South Carolina, two music department faculty from the University of Connecticut, Robert Stephens and Mary Ellen Junda, engage teachers in a study of the history and rich artistic heritage of the Gullah people. They observe that the Gullah, also known as Geechee in Georgia, have shaped a distinctive culture within a history of oppression followed by isolation and more recent struggles to preserve their way of life in the face of twentieth-century development. The Gullah people, descended from rice plantation slaves, preserved many common elements of their home culture in Sierra Leone, chief among them music, dance, and oral traditions. Before coming to the workshop, teachers are asked to view the video Family Across the Sea; review materials on Yale University's Gullah website; and listen to examples of Gullah music collected in the 1930s (materials are available on the project website). They are also asked to read God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man by Cornelia Bailey and Black Culture and Black Consciousness by Lawrence Levine. Following a reception on Sunday night featuring a live performance by the Gullah Geechee Ring Shouters, the week begins with historian Cynthia Schmidt discussing West African and American Gullah connections reflected in songs and stories in common, as depicted in the documentary, The Language You Cry In. Historian Erskine Clark (Columbia Theological Seminary) expands upon these comparisons in the domain of religion and religious practices. Mid-week, co-directors Stephens and Junda discuss the historical and cultural contexts of Gullah music and explain Gullah musical styles. Wednesday afternoon at the Georgia Historical Society, teachers examine artifacts, documents, photographs, and other records with a view toward selecting a primary source to feature in the development of their group projects. In addition to the scholarly and archival experts, teachers have opportunities to work with Gullah community members: artist Leroy Campbell; Gullah historians Emory Campbell and Cornelia Bailey; and Mary Moran and her son Wilson, descendants of Amelia Dawley whose recorded song made it possible for scholars to identify precisely the Gullah's African origins. For the day trip to remote Sapelo Island, teachers are accompanied by author and community "griot" Cornelia Bailey, one of the last generation born and educated there. The tour of African-American historical sites in Savannah on Wednesday evening is led by Karen Wortham, who produced the documentary, Journey by Faith: A Story of First African Baptist Church. On the last day, teachers discuss group projects (arranged by grade levels and academic backgrounds) and explore ways to integrate the content of the Landmarks project into their teaching.