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GSU students get up close, personal with Liberty history

POSTED: January 3, 2009 5:00 a.m.
Photo by Lauren Hunsberger/

Jim Bacote (red shirt in the back), the director and co-founder of Geechee Kunda in Riceboro, helps Georgia Southern students plant canna lilies on Wednesday.

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A group of Georgia Southern students came to Liberty County this week expecting to just get down and dirty restoring and cleaning local historical sites, but were surprised to find what they called “a cultural gold mine.”
The 16 students, who ranged in age and majors, volunteered part of their winter break to restore local sites such as Dorchester Academy, Seabrook Village and the LeConte-Woodmanston Plantation. Split into three groups, they covered acres and acres working eight-hour days Monday through Thursday.
On Monday, a group of four students cleaned and painted Dorchester Academy. They said they didn’t know much about Liberty County’s history when they volunteered for the trip, but once they found out, they were pleasantly surprised.
“Opportunities like this are few and far between,” said Samantha Young, a history and political science major. “I’m excited about being here.”
All the students said they were happy for the chance to preserve the area’s rich history rather than take it for granted, like the vandals who left graffiti on Dorchester Academy’s walls.
Michael Burn, an engineering student, said places like Dorchester, where Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights convened in the early 60s, and was one of the first schools for freed slaves, gives Liberty County an identity.
“This is Liberty County’s heart,” Burn said. “It’s more than just a building; this place is history, and it needs to be preserved.”
Victoria Greene, a junior, said learning about Geechee Kunda in Riceboro was eye-opening.  The living meeting place and artists’ gallery was founded by Jim and Pat Bacote to preserve the heritage and life of the Geechee or Gullah culture.
“I learned to be appreciative,” said Greene, referring to some of slavery’s horrors, which are documented in the museum.
Jim Bacote, director and co-founder of Geechee Kunda, taught the students about Geechee/Gullah culture through documentaries, artifacts and traditions such as making sugar cane water.
“It was interesting and also insightful,” said GSU alumnus Chelandra Nelson.
Bittersweet, too, because what Nelson learned at Geechee Kunda isn’t taught in any history class she’s had.

“You get really mixed feelings,” she said. “And you think: How do I deal with what you’ve told me?  How do I deal with a biased history?”
Bacote said the students were a “godsend.”
 “They’ve given us needed help in ongoing projects,” he said. “And they were bright and creative. They were asking questions from the beginning.”
They won’t forget their experience anytime soon.
“I want to pass on everything I know to other people,” Nelson said.
Janna Pennington, GSU’s Coordinator of Service Learning, said the week was inspiring.
“It’s hard not to be positive about the future when you’re working with students like these,” she said.

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