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Cornel West launches new CCU institute for study of Gullah

September 23, 2016
Cornel WestCornel West and Veronica GeraldCharles Joyner

The celebrated and controversial philosopher, author and political activist Cornel West spoke at the official launch of the Charles Joyner Institute of Gullah and African Diaspora Studies on Sept. 16. West, a Princeton emeritus professor known for his outspoken views and outgoing persona, spoke to a capacity audience at Wheelwright Auditorium about the importance of Gullah culture, its study and its preservation.

The naming of the institute for the late CCU history professor and slavery scholar Charles Joyner was announced at the event. Joyner died on Sept. 13.

The new institute, which is housed in the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts, will examine the historical migration and scattering of African populations to local geographical areas, especially Horry and Georgetown counties, and the subsequent development and evolution of blended cultures, specifically Gullah.

Led by longtime CCU English professor and Gullah scholar Veronica Gerald, the work of the institute will provide students with experiential learning opportunities, both at home and abroad, that center on the interconnections among various local, national and global peoples and their societies. A minor in African diaspora studies has been added to academic offerings at CCU.

In his remarks, West talked about the importance of the search for wisdom. “We live in a culture where everybody’s trying to be so smart,” he said. “Just listen to the TV every night and look at the number of times the pundits say the word ‘obviously.’ It ain’t obvious to me. The Gullah people…and Harriet Tubman and Martin King and Malcolm X and Fannie Lou…they weren’t obsessed with being smart. They were obsessed with being wise. They connected the quest for wisdom to deep courage in order to strengthen their backs up and tell the truth.”

Institute projects will involve collaboration among faculty, students and the community in the study of three different components of the African diaspora: Gullah as it relates to local communities in Horry and Georgetown counties in South Carolina; international connections, including West Africa and the Caribbean; and contemporary issues of social justice.

West’s visit was part of CCU’s Nancy A. Smith Distinguished Visiting Lecture Series. The series was established in 2004 to bring to campus noted artists and intellectuals with distinguished careers in the arts, history, archaeology, international affairs or philosophy.