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Grant number: BH-50648-14

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University of Connecticut, Stamford (Stamford, CT 06903)
Robert W. Stephens (Project Director: March 2014 to present)
Mary Ellen Junda (Co Project Director: August 2014 to present)

Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations

Two one-week workshops for seventy-two school teachers on the history and cultural memory of the Gullah people of Georgia and South Carolina, explored through the arts.

This workshop introduces teachers to the history and rich artistic heritage of the Gullah people, who are direct descendants of slaves who lived on plantations and in farming and fishing communities along the South Carolina and Georgia Sea Islands and coastal lowlands. Their strong community life and geographical isolation enabled the Gullah people to preserve more of the African heritage than other African-American groups in the United States. As a result, the history, stories, beliefs, and creative expressions of the Gullah are critical antecedents to African-American culture and the broader American mosaic, as we know it today. The workshop is based in Savannah, Georgia, to give access to sites of Gullah culture; it incorporates a variety of source types: live performances, sound recordings, written documents, material sites, artifacts, moving and still images, and life-story materials. Each day is organized around cultural themes: Sounds and Traditions: The Sacred World of Black Slaves (Monday); Sounds in Place and Time: The Plantation and the Praise House (Tuesday); Images and Iconography (Wednesday); Stories and Artifacts (Thursday); and Cultural Memories in History: Recollections (Friday). The landmark sites to be visited include Historic Savannah and the Pin Point Heritage Museum; The Georgia Historical Society, a significant archive for primary sources on the Gullah; The Penn Center, a National Historic Landmark on St. Helena Island; and Sapelo Island, a state-protected island located in McIntosh County, Georgia. Directed by Robert Stephens and Mary Ellen Junda (musicologists, University of Connecticut), the workshop features guest presenters Peter Wood (historian, Duke University), Erskine Clarke (historian, Columbia Theological Seminary), Emory Shaw Campbell and Victoria Smalls (historians, Penn Center), Ron Daise (cultural historian, Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission), Cornelia Bailey (cultural historian and Gullah native), Leroy Campbell (visual artist), and Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters (musicians). Guest lectures explore a wide variety of topics including the story of the African-American religious experiences, the connection between Africa and America, and secular music styles. Participants also attend live performances, workshop demonstrations, and watch the video documentary, The Language You Cry In. Three books have been selected for pre-workshop reading: Lawrence W. Levine's Black Culture and Black Consciousness; Cornelia Bailey's God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man; and Wilbur Cross's Gullah Culture in America. Participants are organized into five-member teams to facilitate interaction and collaboration.

Project fields:
African American History; American Studies; Cultural History

Landmarks of American History

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$179,985 (approved)
$179,985 (awarded)

Grant period:
10/1/2014 – 12/31/2015