African American News and Genealogy

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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

140-plus years of history remembered

Published Wednesday November 9 2005 By SANDRA WALSHThe Beaufort Gazette Penn School was the first school in the South for freed slaves, and more than 140 years later Penn Center is still going strong as a site where people can learn and grow. Thousands of people are expected to come together at the 23rd annual Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration set to start Thursday and last throughout the weekend on St. Helena Island. "We are celebrating ... our history of coming to America -- our culture," said Gardenia Simmons-White, a Penn School alumnus and commander of the Penn Center's York W. Bailey Museum. "In our culture we have basket weavers, indigo dye makers, artists, sculptors -- all unique to the Gullah culture. We want to keep that alive." In addition to ongoing demonstrations featuring Gullah traditions at the Gullah Roots Village on Penn Center grounds -- where people can witness basketry, storytelling, net making, hair braiding and more -- celebration highlights also include a traditional fish fry from 6 p.m. to midnight Friday on Penn Center grounds; a parade from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.; and a live performance from Beaufort's Ron Daise at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Darrah Hall at Penn Center. There also will be a variety of live music and dancing presentations throughout the festival as well as vendors selling food and arts and crafts. Ervena Faulkner, co-manager of the Bailey Museum, said the celebration is a true experience of a culture that has its roots on St. Helena Island. "Jacksonville, N.C., to Jacksonville, Fla., has been designated as the Gullah-Geechee corridor," Faulkner said. And, she said, the corridor includes St. Helena Island, where a lot of history took place. The 400-year-old Gullah-Geechee tradition first landed on the Sea Islands when West African slaves were brought to the area to work on plantations. Today, the culture is a mixture of West African, American Indian and European backgrounds. Emory Campbell, former executive director of Penn Center, said interest in the Heritage Days Celebration has grown tremendously over the years from a few hundred attendees to more than 10,000. Campbell said this year's celebration will mark the public launch of the newly completed Gullah translation of the New Testament. The public launching will take place at noon Saturday at the center stage on Penn Center grounds. "It's an exciting thing to see years and years of work come to fruition," Campbell said. Copyright 2005 The Beaufort Gazette • May not be republished in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.


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