Exhibit at WSSU Will Focus on Bunce Island Slave Castle in Sierra Leone

January 21, 2011

Photo of Bunce Island Castle Ruins in Sierra Leone

Bunce Island, a British slave castle in Sierra Leone, West Africa, is linked forever to the southern United States and a photo documentary exhibit on the history of Bunce Island, with emphasis on its connection to America, will be displayed at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) as part of the school’s Black History Month programming.

The exhibit, presented by WSSU’s International Programs and division of Student Affairs in association with various academic departments of the university, will be open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., from February 2 until February 26 in Room 207C of the Thompson Student Services Center.  The exhibit will be free and open to the public.

Considered the most important historic site in Africa for the United States, Bunce Island shipped thousands of African captives to South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and other Southern Colonies during the mid- and late 1700s.  Rice planters were particularly anxious to buy captives from Sierra Leone and other parts of the “Rice Coast” because that area had grown rice for thousands of years.  The Gullah people who live in the coastal region of the Southeastern United States are descendants of these slaves from Sierra Leone and other countries along the West African coast.

The link between Bunce Island and the United States even included Henry Laurens, a wealthy rice planter and slave dealer before the Revolutionary War who became president of the Continental Congress. Laurens, who had been Bunce Island’s business agent in Charleston, was one of the negotiators for U.S. Independence under the Treaty of Paris.  The head of the British negotiating team was Richard Oswald, owner of Bunce Island.

This exhibit, Bunce Island: A British Slave Castle in Sierra Leone, consists of a series of 20 door-sized panels containing images and text on the castle’s history and its links to African Americans.  It showcases period drawings, including pictures of the castle made in the mid-1700s, and photographs of the current ruins.  There are also computer-generated reconstruction drawings of the castle showing how it appeared in 1805.  The exhibit features contemporary photographs of pilgrimages made by Gullah people from Georgia and South Carolina to Bunce Island as well as an eight-minute video.

Joseph Opala, the exhibit’s curator, has spent 30 years researching the site’s history and its ties to the American slave trade.  A professor at James Madison University, Opala considers Bunce Island the most important African slave castle for Americans since other slave castles delivered the majority of their captives to the West Indies. Because of its connections to the U.S., Opala has organized three highly publicized “Gullah homecomings” and served as principal consultant for several documentary films.

This exhibit has previously been on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, the College of Charleston Library, the Stanback Museum at South Carolina State University and other institutions.  WSSU now holds the license for showing the exhibit in the State of North Carolina west of Interstate 95.

For more information call the WSSU Office of International Programs at 336-750-3345.

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Nancy Young                                                    Aaron Singleton

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