Bunce Island off Sierra Leone was an embarkation point for tens of thousands of…
(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,”
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
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 more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 38,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. 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, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.