Engaging History

Engaging History

    Bunce Island off Sierra Leone was an embarkation point for tens of thousands of…

Georgia (Jul 17, 2009)

    Bunce Island off Sierra Leone was an embarkation point for tens of thousands of slaves bound for Europe and North America for more than 100 years. Though nearly 5,000 miles away, Bunce Island shares a special bond with Georgia and South Carolina, where colonists established huge rice plantations that shaped the coastal economy. 
    The descendants of slaves sent from the late 1600s to the early 1800s from Bunce Island – the largest British slave castle on West Africa’s rice coast – to work the rice plantations are the Gullah people who now inhabit the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. 
  Their compelling story – and the historic link between England, West Africa and the United States – is now reaching hundreds of middle and high school students in North Georgia thanks to KSU’s Bunce Island traveling exhibit, which started making the rounds in February. The exhibition is comprised of 20 interlocking six-foot panels and features an eight-minute video; period drawings of the castle; announcements and images of slave auctions; photos of the castle’s ruins and shots of recent pilgrimages to Bunce Island by Gullah families from South Carolina and Georgia. 
    “It’s been the best educational resource we’ve had,” said Trudy Delhey, coordinator of international studies at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, where the exhibit was displayed in February. “We haven’t been able to keep up with the demand for it.” 
    During its one-week display at North Cobb High School, 32 classes – including all social studies classes at nearby Awtrey Middle School – viewed the exhibition.
    Earlier this year, Kennesaw State held a two-day workshop for middle and high school teachers, attracting participants from 19 schools in six Georgia counties. Funded in part by a grant from the Georgia Humanities Council, the Bunce Island exhibit was designed to help educators and media specialists incorporate it into their curriculum to enhance students’ understanding of the intercontinental history.
    What makes the exhibit such a great resource, Delhey explained, is its application to many disciplines: to English through its oral history, to music and art with its cultural components, to science as it relates to the cultivation of rice, and, of course, to U.S. and world history.
    North Cobb High media specialist Maureen Norris applied the workshop training by providing students a set of questions – a sort of a scavenger hunt – so they would take a more focused approach to viewing the exhibit. “The training was just fantastic,” she said.
    As two dozen sophomores in a U.S. History class huddled around the panels with their guides and notebooks in hand, they read, debated and searched intently for answers. For student Lashonda Jenkins and her peers, the exhibit answered a question they had each considered: Why did Africans sell their own people into slavery?
    “I can see now that they had no choice,” Lashonda said. “They were acting under terrible pressures.” 
    As it completes a week of display at each of the 19 schools for the remainder of the academic year, the exhibit is hand-delivered to the next destination. The exhibit will then reside permanently at Kennesaw State and will be available for loan to other schools or school districts. 
    Kennesaw State’s involvement with Bunce Island resulted from a connection that began more than 20 years ago in Sierra Leone. Dan Paracka, the university’s director of International Services and Programs, and exhibit curator Joseph Opala, an adjunct professor of history at James Madison University in Virginia, met while Paracka was a Peace Corps volunteer and Opala was teaching at Fourah Bay College in the capital of Freetown. Paracka later wrote his doctoral dissertation on Fourah Bay College’s links to the shared history between the United States, Great Britain and Sierra Leone. 
    “Borrowing from Opala’s mantra,” Paracka quipped, “Bunce Island may be the most significant historic site in Africa for the United States.”


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu