Director’s Statement

From the Director
I am delighted to announce that Gullah Voices: Traditions and Transformations has been, again, funded through the generous auspices of The National Endowment for the Humanities for 2018-19 via The University of Connecticut and it’s partnering agencies.  The generosity of NEH allows us to  continue to offer teachers from a broad cross section of America’s landscape experiences focused on one of the most significant subsets of African American groups in existence today, the Gullah.

Gullah Voices is about a people, a community, a way of life that began more than five hundred years ago when one group of humans decided to place less emphasis on trading gold, salt and spices and to see other human beings as commodities, or properties that could be bought and sold for economic gain. Once introduced, this new system of enslavement gave birth to an industrialized slave trade cloaked in subterfuge and cruelty whose sole purpose was to generate financial gain. This system became the context for a new world of commerce and trade. The American colonies and later, the United States entered this new world founded on the shared but dueling discrepancy of enslavement for some and freedom for others. This shared history and shared past is the foundation of our explorations into the world of the Gullah.

Gullah Voices speaks to and through the lived experience of a unique group of African Americans. These are people whose lives are situated in the creative arts, social relationships and locations that are produced through the intersection of the Gullah tradition of cultural wholeness based on an African conceptual worldview. The extent of our success in connecting these experiences and the power of their human struggle also finds resonance across other U.S. communities. And that was part of our intent. The success of those intentions appears verified in the following statement by a former participant:

“What an amazing week. The experience was exceptional and I will return home with not only a much greater understanding and appreciation for Gullah culture, but a renewed vitality for understanding and appreciating my own personal history and culture as well as those around me. I anticipate that the biggest impact this experience will have on my teaching is that I will return with a reminder of the importance of crafting lessons and experiences that allow students to not only think but to feel. Feel the power of human struggle along with hope and faith in the future” (#17072)1.

We think this statement captures the essence the Gullah Voices project

The Workshop includes visits to Landmark sites and a variety of source-types that include- live

1 Numbers identify specific teacher evaluations; those starting with “1” are from 2013 and those starting with “2” are from 2015.performances, sound recordings, written documents, material sites, objects and artifacts, moving and still images, and life-history material- that are provided to teachers enabling them to explore the common research practices of selection, interpretation, and representation. Similarly, we seek to balance the work of scholars and culture bearers, written and oral histories, and readings with artistic and cultural experiences. Teachers are introduced to Gullah life and art-ways and how they contribute to a fuller understanding of why the Gullah and their practices are important to a more fuller understanding of the American experience. To that end, we believe we have been successful. This was affirmed by one teacher who noted that, “The diverse activities from lectures, to performances (i.e. Georgia Sea Island Singers), to hands on learning experiences (i.e. knitting a crab net), to conversations with living cultural legends were engaging, enlivening, heart wrenching, and powerful” (#20968). Another shared, “This was a truly unique experience that certainly was developed with a love for the people, subject and place. More importantly, it honored the spirit of the Gullah culture” (#20954).

This year, we look forward to working with a new group of teachers and we would like to encourage you to help spread the word our project. And please feel free to contact me or Marisely Gonzalez, the Project Coordinator, if you have any questions.

All the Best

Robert W. Stephens, Ph.D
Professor of Music
Project Director