Penn Center celebrates 30th Annual Heritage Days

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The historic Penn Center, located on St. Helena Island, will kick off the 30th Annual Heritage Days Celebration on November 8-11. Organizers are expecting up to 20,000 visitors for this traditional fall celebration, one of the South’s oldest cultural festivals.  This year’s theme is “Penn Center: Celebrating 150 Years — A Legacy of Education, Leadership and Service.”
Heritage Days is a time that visitors from all over the country will converge on St. Helena Island to revel in a unique Gullah experience: An exciting three-day event that includes food, music, performances, fishing tournament, seminars, arts and crafts, a parade, and cultural demonstrations by the Gullah descendants of former West African slaves in a historic setting, formerly known as the Penn Normal Agricultural and Industrial School — one of the first freedmen’s schools in the South.
The celebration kicks off 3 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8 with the opening ceremonies that include Libation Ceremony, Presentation of the Flags of the Gullah Nations, Penn School Founders Memorial Services, and “The Road of Remembrance” youth theatrical production of eras of Penn School. New to the celebration this year is the Gospel Extravaganza Competition, where many local and regional choirs will be invited to compete for the honor of being called “Penn Center Heritage Days Choir of The Year.”
Friday, the second day of Heritage will begin with the Heritage Symposium and Youth Day activities with several learning activities hosted at the new Beaufort County St. Helena Branch Library. A Heritage favorite — Fish Fry, Oyster Roast, Crab Crack & the Blues is back in addition to a silent auction, and the many food and craft vendors.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, in cooperation with Minority Landowner Magazine, will host a workshop for private landowners on Friday, November 9 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. that will discuss topics including Farm Bill financial and technical assistance, the importance of soil and water conservation, and land ownership issues (heirs property).  The event will premiere a documentary produced by the conservation service and the University of South Carolina Beaufort, called “St. Helena/A Better Place.”
Penn Center’s Heritage Symposium will feature “Slavery by Another Name: THE DISCUSSION” on Friday, November 9, presented in partnership with NBAF, presenters of the National Black Arts Festival.  THE DISCUSSION will dive into the provoking topic of Douglas A. Blackmon’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning book “Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II” in a panel presentation with a film screening of the PBS documentary of the same name, produced and directed by Sam Pollard. “THE DISCUSSION” will take place at St. Helena Elementary School from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., reservations and tickets are required.
Douglas Blackmon has written comprehensively about the dilemma of race in America for over 20 years.  His latest work, “Slavery by Another Name” is a historical depiction that presents evidence that slavery in the United Sates did not end with the Civil War, but continued with forced labor of imprisoned African American men and women through the convict lease system used by Southern states, local governments, white farmers and corporations.
Inspired by the book, “Slavery by Another Name,” artist Robert Claiborne Morris showcases a collection of mixed media works created to “awaken complex emotions and promote reconciliation.” Morris’ collection does just that, it stirs the heart and mind. Meet artist Robert Claiborne Morris and view this soul stirring collection at the exhibition opening on November 8,, from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Penn Center’s York W. Bailey Museum.
On Saturday, the morning begins with the annual Heritage Days Parade at 9 a.m. on Sea Island Parkway to the Penn Center. Entertainment kicks off after the parade from noon-5 p.m. Gullah food and fun will be served up all day with entertainment by African dancers and drummers, storytellers, singers, and period re-enactors. Attendees will be able to get a “Taste of the Sea Islands” via a cook-off, visit artists’ row and enjoy book talks given by several authors. Also new to Heritage Days is a fishing tournament open to all. The documentary filming of “Share your Story” will continue collecting memories of Penn to document the Sesquicentennial celebrations 2012-2014.
Daily tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for youth, and free to children ages 5 and under. Call for advance ticket information: 843-838-2432; email: info@penncenter.com or visit www.penncenter.com. The Penn School Historic District is located at 16 Penn Center Circle West, off Sea Island Parkway on St. Helena Island, seven miles from downtown Beaufort.