Culture and Community at the Penn Center National Historic Landmark District, a partnership between the Penn Center, on St. Helena Island, SC, and the Willson Center, will continue its first year’s public programs with a five-day cycle of research residencies in early June, 2022. The residencies will bring students, faculty, and community experts from across the southeastern U.S. for unique place-based studies on the theme of Land, Liberation, and Justice. The Culture and Community program is funded by a $1 million grant from the Mellon Foundation.
Students and faculty from Spelman College, Morehouse College, Emory University, the College of Charleston, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, the University of Kentucky, and UGA will participate in classes and workshops at Penn Center and in the surrounding Sea Islands region.
“The summer research residencies are important to the Culture and Community partnership because they facilitate student engagement with their peers across a variety of disciplines and institutions to learn about the history, culture, art, and accomplishments of rural Black southerners and Gullah Geechee people,” said Barbara McCaskill, UGA professor of English and Willson Center associate academic director. “Through workshops and conversations with Penn Center alumni and Sea Island residents, the students accomplish the partnership’s goal of creating meaningful and responsive pathways for cultural exchange and community self-determination.
McCaskill, Valerie Frazier, associate professor of English at the College of Charleston and a UGA alumna, and Nik Heynen, Distinguished Research Professor of Geography at UGA and visiting faculty in the Black Food Studies Program at Spelman College, will teach on-site credit-bearing courses. Charles S. Johnson III, retired vice president and counsel for external affairs at Tuskegee University, will teach a workshop on the Fifteenth Amendment, and Heynen will co-lead a workshop with Maurice Bailey, director of the nonprofit Save Our Legacy Ourself of Hog Hammock, Sapelo Island, on Liberation Farming, Indigo and Community Economic Development. Bailey and Heynen’s work together on Sapelo has been featured in The New York Times, The Bitter Southerner, and in other publications and media.
The program will also include a tour and discussion of Penn Center and its history with Dr. Emory Campbell, the project’s Community Research Partner and a past executive director of Penn Center, and a day of learning activities in the historic Hilton Head Island, SC Gullah community of Mitchelville.
The Culture and Community at Penn Center project hosted two community conversations earlier this spring on “Heirs’ Property: Land, Culture, and Community” and “Sacred Spaces: The Penn Center, Belief and Belonging.” Those conversations can be streamed on the program’s website. The Sacred Spaces event also featured a sound and video installation by Atlanta artist Charmaine Minniefield among the ruins of the Chapel of Ease on St. Helena, in honor of the enslaved people who built the structure in the mid-18th century.
The program’s first annual artists in residence, Anina Major and Tamika Galanis, will display their work in the Penn Center museum beginning in July, with more public events to accompany that exhibition. Through their art Galanis and Major, both from The Bahamas and based in the U.S., will explore themes of place, history, culture, and environment that connect their island home communities with those of the Sea Islands region.
“This partnership has been the catalyst for meaningful discussions, reflective art, and informative research which will contribute to the study of culture and community at Penn Center for many years to come,” said Deloris Pringle, chair of the Penn Center Board of Trustees. “The learnings and experiences that occur during the 2022 spring student research residencies will not only travel with students once they leave Penn Center but will create an enduring model in the study of the humanities for others in future years.”