Penn Center's Heritage Days Celebration explores Gullah culture

Special to Lowcountry CurrentNovember 8, 2012 


  • Nov. 8

    3 p.m. to 9 p.m.

    Events: Opening Ceremony; "The Road of Remembrance" Theatrical Performance; Old Fashioned Prayer Devotional and Gospel Extravaganza; Opening of "Slavery by Another Name" art exhibit.

    Nov. 9

    8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

    Events: "Slavery by Another Name" symposium; Youth Day at Penn Center; USDA /NRCS Workshops; Presentation of "St. Helena - A Better Place"film; Fish Fry, Oyster Roast, Crab Crack and The Blues; food and craft vendors

    Nov. 10

    9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    Heritage Days Parade; "Taste of the Sea Islands" cookoff; Author book talks and discussions; Penn Center 150th anniversary filming of "Share Your Story;" craft and food vendors; evening dance.

    Nov. 11

    10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

    Sunday Morning Worship Services

The Penn Center's 30th annual Heritage Days Celebration will offer plenty of opportunities for those interested in the Gullah and Geechee cultures.

Including a forum about Jim Crow laws and a Sea Islands cook-off, the four-day event will explore many different aspects of Gullah culture, said Victoria Smalls, history and culture coordinator at the center.

One of the centerpieces of this year's celebration is the "Slavery by Another Name" symposium and art exhibit. The title is taken from a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Douglas Blackmon that was the basis for a PBS documentary about Jim Crow laws.

The book focuses on the push in the South for Jim Crow laws after the Civil War.

The laws restricted the rights of black people and led to the so-called "separate but equal" status.

"The black codes and the Jim Crow laws were established to re-enslave black Americans," Smalls said.

An opening reception for the art exhibit today is part of the kick-off events for the weekend.

Artist Robert Morris will be on hand at the event, Smalls said. Morris' work features pieces of historical significance including Confederate money, old prison shackles and newspaper clippings that describe the era.

Also Thursday is a gospel extravaganza, featuring local choirs.

Originally the event was set to be a competition, but the groups were reluctant, Smalls said.

"They said they don't want to compete against each other in the spirit of unity on St. Helena Island," she said.

Friday will feature a symposium on the "Slavery by Another Name" theme, starting with breakfast and a viewing of the documentary.

Immediately following the screening will be a discussion with local scholars about the laws and the situation for black people in the South from the end of the Civil War to World War II.

Friday is also Youth Day at the Heritage Days Celebration.

More than 600 children from area schools are expected to participate in activities, ranging from artist demonstrations to historical presentations.

The activities continue at the newly opened St. Helena Branch Library including presentations from poet and author Kwame Alexander.

Maria Benac, manager for the St. Helena Branch, said the library has several programs set up for school groups.

"This year, because we are so close to the Penn Center, we're able to do more library instructional tours using the theme of Gullah culture," she said.

The demonstrations will include tours of the Gullah/Geechee Room in the library, which provides an extensive database about the cultures beyond the presence in Beaufort County.

The younger children, from third to fifth grades, will meet Alexander, who is known for his interactive presentations and interest in youth education, Benac said.

Alexander will be available to the public to sign books from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at the library.

Saturday will feature the Taste of the Sea Islands Cook-Off. Smalls said cooks and chefs were invited to enter into one or all of five judged categories including seafood, rice, dessert, soup/stew and wild game.

The public is invited to taste the food along with the judges from 1 to 3 p.m., following the annual parade and morning festivities.

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