In honor of Black History Month, a photo exhibit profiling the slave trade from West Africa to the southern United States is on display at Ashe County Middle School.
George Zeller, an eighth grade social studies teacher at ACMS was instrumental in bringing the “Bunce Island” exhibition, which consists of 20 door-size display panels tracing the history of slave trade from Bunce Island in Sierra Leone to the coasts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, Ashe County.
“Most of our kids know about slavery, but this exhibit really focuses in on a particular group of slaves and a particular part of the United States, the southeast,” Zeller said. “It’s really looking at a part of history under a microscope.”
Zeller said many of the slaves were brought from Sierra Leone because they were specialized in working rice fields, which American and European laborers were unfamiliar with.
“We really need to recognize Black History Month, and this is so relevant,” he said, of the exhibit, which is on-loan from Winston-Salem State University. “I’m trying to show how localized this history is to the southeast U.S.”
Students at ACMS are able to view a short film that accompanies the exhibition, which shows modern reenactments of life on Bunce Island for African captives, and their passage from freedom to slavery in the United States.
“It’s a great thing to be able to have this resource and I’m really excited about it; with our curriculum we have to cover so much, and sometimes we need to stop and really zoom-in and look at a topic like slavery in a personalized and particular way,” Zeller said.
One example is the story of a 10 year old girl named Priscilla from Bunce Island, brought to South Carolina as a slave. The movie illustrates how relevant this story is today by showing Priscilla’s ancestors traveling from South Carolina to Bunce Island to see how Priscilla lived and the journey that she was forced to take.
“I always ask the kids ‘Why is it important to learn this?’ and then I call special attention to a proverb in the movie that states ‘If you don’t know where you’re coming from, then you can’t know where you’re going’,” Zeller said.
He created a scavenger hunt for students, allowing them to delve further into the history and significance of Bunce Island by finding the answers to questions detailed in the exhibition.
Zeller, who served in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps volunteer, learned of the Bunce Island exhibition last summer during a National Endowment for Humanities workshop called “Traditions and Transformations” in Savannah, Ga.
“I was encouraged by the creator of the exhibit to speak with Winston-Salem State, and they have loaned it to us at no cost,” he said.
Ashe County Middle School is opening the exhibit and video to all students, parents and members of the public from 5-7 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18, in the library of the middle school in Warrensville.
Zeller encourages anyone who would like to view the exhibit at another time to contact him at ACMS at (336) 384-3591. More information on the Bunce Island exhibition can be found at www.bunce-island.org.
Christina Day can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @CDayinWJ