The historic Penn Center, located on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, is expecting to attract up to 15,000 visitors for the 26th Annual Heritage Days Celebration on November 6-8.
Established in 1981, the celebration was originally a revival of “Harvest Day” which began in the early 1900’s and was celebrated annually until Penn School closed in 1948. Visitors from all parts of the country and the world will converge on St. Helena Island to revel in the Gullah experience: an exciting three-day event that includes food, music, seminars, arts and crafts, a parade, and the folk traditions of the Gullah descendants of West Africans.
This year’s theme, “Promoting Tolerance in a Changing World,” will be presented by a panel of special guest speakers, including artist Jonathan Green of Florida, actress Kerry Washington of New York, Daryl “Chilly” Mitchell, Atlanta comedian, and author Heyward Inabinett of St. Helena Island, SC. who will discuss different attitudes of intolerance in America today.
The 2008 Artist of the Year, Amiri Geuka Farris of Savannah, GA, will be featured in an opening exhibition and reception on Thursday, November 6th at 5:00 p.m. His collection, “Traditions,” is a series of paintings and drawings that reflects the richness, character and beauty of Gullah culture in style and subject. Farris’ use of vivid colors and layers of texture make his artwork highly collectible around the world.
A main event will be the Heritage Days Symposium and Sea Island Breakfast which will feature an exhibit and lecture entitled “Discover Bunce Island: An 18th Century British Slave Castle” held to commemorate the 200th bicentennial of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade by the U.S. government. The symposium will be held on Friday, November 7th from 8 a.m. to 12 noon at St. Helena Elementary School. Historian, Joseph Opala, of James Madison University in Virginia, will share his life’s work in Sierra Leone and the history of 30,000 men, women and children who were shipped from Bunce Island to North America and the Caribbean. Guests will have the unique opportunity to walk through an existing slave castle as simulated on 6 foot panels depicting the history of Bunce Island.
Food and fun will be served up for school groups on Friday, “Kids’ Day” on November 7th along with performers like Aunt Pearlie Sue, step teams, crafts demonstrations, Lady’s Island Middle School Chorus, and the Sankofa Traveling Museum-on-Wheels. The evening will end with a fantastic Fish Fry, Oyster Roast, Crab Crack and Blues, featuring live music by Doctor Patch Enterprise Band from 6:00-11:00 p.m.
Saturday, November 8th, is filled with all-day festivities beginning with the Heritage Days Parade at 9:00 a.m. on Sea Island Parkway. Center stage performances, the Old Fashion Craft Fair, the Sankofa Museum-on-Wheels, and the Gullah Roots Village round out the day.
Penn Center is one of the oldest and most historically significant African American cultural and educational institutions in the United States. Founded in 1862 as one of the first schools established in the South to educate newly freed African slaves, today, Penn Center remains a major educational, historical and cultural resource and service center for Sea Islanders and offers a wide range of programs and activities to tens of thousands of visitors annually. The recent passing of the legislation of the Gullah/Geechee Act has focused on Penn Center as one of the sites along the national Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
Penn School Historic District is located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, six miles from downtown Beaufort off Sea Island Parkway. For ticket information and the schedule of events for the Heritage Celebration, call (843) 838-2432 or visit our website at www.penncenter.com