Emory Campbell & Penn Center's Legacy

Posted by Nick Gray on February 14, 2013
A class visits the Penn Center in 2012
Over 150 years after its founding, the Penn Center continues to inspire through its legacy of promoting freedom through education. In the above photo, a class visits in 2012.

“This place will let you know, as you walk through with the Spanish moss hanging, that something happened here.” 

—Emory Campbell on the Penn Center

On February 13, Bank Street’s Pemberton Society celebrated Black History Month with an event honoring Emory Campbell, who delivered a talk on “Penn Center: A Distinctive Change Agent for Freedom, From Emancipation Day to Present.”

Lucia Henley Jack with Emory Campbell
Pemberton Society founder Lucia Henley Jack with Emory Campbell

Campbell is Director Emeritus of the Penn Center, a national historic landmark and the site of one of the earliest schools for freed slaves. The Penn Center works to preserve the legacy of Gullah culture—descendents of slaves living in the coastland and island communities of South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida.

He is currently the President of Gullah Heritage Consulting Services, through which he furthers cultural awareness of the Gullah legacy.

This Place is Eyewitness to History

“Penn Center has always been focused on freedom,” Campbell said.

“When you visit, you’ll see a beautiful campus of 21 structures—very significant structures. Some of them were houses that civil rights workers lived in, but before then, where people went to school, and where they lived while going to school. This place is eyewitness to history. When Laura Towne and Ellen Murray founded this place, they found people who were yearning for education. And they had no idea that it would be like this today, where people would come and see it as a resource for studying history.”

Diversity at Bank Street, and a Meaningful Collaboration

Martin Luther King visited the Penn Center
During the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King lived for a time at the Penn Center while planning the "March on Washington." He is shown here with Courtney Siceloff, then Executive Director of the Center, and the Siceloff family.
Gantt Cottage at the Penn Center
The Gantt Cottage, where King stayed. Penn Center was one of the only places in South Carolina where biracial groups could meet.

The Pemberton Society, an important alumni initiative for the Graduate School, hosted the event. The Society’s mission is to support students of color at Bank Street through fundraising for diversity scholarships and other services.

At the event, Virginia Roach, Dean of Bank Street’s Graduate School, introduced Campbell, who was awarded an Honorary Doctorate at Bank Street in 2000. 

Regarding Pemberton, Dean Roach noted,

“It’s through the vitality of the Pemberton Society that we work on ensuring that we have diverse cultures infused in our Bank Street life and community every single day. And we are eternally grateful for the ways in which they contribute to our school.”

Before Campbell's talk, the Pemberton Society presented him with the Leadership in Diversity Award. Given annually since 2007, the award recognizes individuals who champion values that promote a diverse, democratic society.

Bank Street’s relationship with the Penn Center goes back over a dozen years. In 2000, then-Dean of Continuing Education Fern Khan led a Long Trip to the Penn Center. In 2012, Bank Street featured an exhibition honoring Penn Center’s 150th anniversary.

“I am elated to be back at Bank Street—my honorary alma mater,” said Campbell, who first became acquainted with Bank Street nearly 20 years ago, when Lucia Henley Jack—founder of the Pemberton Society—visited the Penn Center on a trip to South Carolina. Their friendship has remained strong since.

Further Reading