About the Commission
The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is managed by a Federal Commission comprised of fifteen members representing the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. South Carolina has six representatives on the Commission, and North Carolina, Georgia and Florida each have three. Additionally, each state has Alternate Commissioners.
Althea Natalga Sumpter, Chair, Georgia — Ethnographer and producer Althea Natalga Sumpter, a native of St. Helena Island, South Carolina, uses digital media technology to document the Gullah culture incorporating traditional historical, genealogical and documentary research. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Humanities (concentrations in African/African American Studies and New Media Technology) from Clark Atlanta University, as well as Bachelor and Master of Media Arts degrees from the University of South Carolina. With two decades in the production industry, she is an Emmy-nominated producer and editor and former Assistant Director of Media Services and Production at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center in Atlanta. She has taught at Georgia Institute of Technology, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia State University. Dr. Sumpter currently teaches digital media production at The Art Institute of Atlanta. Her experience as a researcher for the South Carolina Department of Archives & History gives her special insight into exploring genealogy and culture. She is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Veronica D. Gerald, Vice-Chair, South Carolina — Veronica Gerald is a descendant of enslaved Africans from the Brookgreen and Longwood Plantations in Georgetown County. The first African American woman to be graduated from Conway High School, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and a Master’s in English from Atlanta University and did doctoral work in American Studies at Emory University, where she was a Patricia Harris Roberts Fellow. An English professor at Coastal Carolina University and recipient of numerous awards, including the coveted S.C. Governor’s Award in Humanities, she also served as Director of History and Culture at historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island. Professor Gerald is considered an eminent scholar on Gullah history and culture, lecturing and consulting across the state and across the country. In addition to her scholarly writings, she is the co-author of The Ultimate Gullah Cookbook.
David B. Frank, Secretary, North Carolina — David Frank is a linguist and consultant for SIL International. He worked on the island of Saint Lucia from 1984 through 2000 as part of a team that produced a translation of the New Testament into St. Lucian French Creole, a French Creole dictionary, and mother-tongue literacy materials for Creole speakers. Originally from Georgia, he moved with his family from Saint Lucia to North Carolina in 2001, working as a consultant with a specialty in creole languages. In 2002 he started to become involved with Gullah, serving as a consultant to the Sea Island Translation Team to complete a translation of the New Testament into Gullah, which was published in 2005. In addition to editing the St. Lucian Creole dictionary, Dr. Frank is the author of several articles about Saint Lucian Creole and Gullah, and is also editor of the Journal of Translation. While staying involved with Gullah, more recently he has become involved as a consultant for Portuguese Creole and other languages in West Africa.
Ralph B. Johnson, Treasurer, Florida — Ralph Johnson is a Professor at the Florida Atlantic University (FAU), School of Architecture and Director, FAU Center for the Conservation of Architectural and Cultural Heritage. He was the former director of the FAU Center for Urban Redevelopment and Education. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Howard University, a Master’s degree in City Planning and a Master’s degree in Architecture, both from Yale University. Professor Johnson serves on numerous preservation boards of directors including Trustee Emeritus, Florida Trust for Historic Preservation; the African American Preservation Alliance; historic Bonnet House and Gardens, Fort Lauderdale; Expanding and Preserving Our Cultural Heritage, the S. D. Spady Museum and Cultural Center in Delray Beach; the 1000 Friends of Florida, Inc; and, the Smart Growth Partnership of South Florida.
J. Herman Blake, Acting Executive Director — J. Herman Blake is the inaugural Humanities Scholar in Residence at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Blake received his B.A. from New York University and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley--all in Sociology. He retired from Iowa State University as Professor of Sociology Emeritus and served most recently as Scholar in Residence and founding Director of the Sea Islands Institute at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. Throughout his career Dr. Blake has focused on minority students in higher education, urban militants in the African American community and social change and community development in rural and urban African American communities. His publications include over fifty full-length contributions and a book, the autobiography of Huey P. Newton, Revolutionary Suicide. He has been awarded six honorary degrees and two presidential medals.
Emory Shaw Campbell — Emory Shaw Campbell is president of Gullah Heritage Consulting Services. He is considered one of the leading experts on Gullah Geechee cultural heritage. His career in historic and environmental preservation in the SC and Georgia Lowcountry spans more than forty years. Mr. Campbell earned a B.S. Degree in Biology from Savannah State College in 1965 and a M.S. in Environmental Engineering from Tufts University in 1971. He has received numerous honors including an honorary doctorate from Bank Street College in New York.
Willie B. Heyward — Willie Heyward was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Following service in the U.S. Army, he received a B.A. in Political Science from UCLA and a J.D. from Hastings College of Law at the University of California, San Francisco. His legal career includes positions as Staff Attorney, Lead Attorney and Managing Attorney for various entities. Mr. Heyward is currently the Director of the Heirs’ Property Law Center, LLC. North Charleston, S.C., and is a Member of the South Carolina Bar.
William Saunders — Bill Saunders is a graduate of Laing High School in Charleston County. He served in the United States Army, was wounded in the Korean War and received the Purple Heart medal in 2004. After furthering his education at Southern Business College, Southern Illinois University and the University of Nevada, Mr. Saunders went on to become founder/CEO of the Committee on Better Racial Assurance (COBRA) Human Services Agency, one-time owner of WPAL Radio and member of the S.C. Public Service Commission (1994-2004; Chairman, 2002). He is the recipient of numerous community service awards and has often been the subject of features in national media.
Daniel Cromer — A native of Greenville, SC, Daniel Cromer majored in Political Science at the University of South Carolina before completing graduate studies in Public Administration and Social Work. He served ten years under South Carolina Governors Riley and Campbell, eighteen years as Legislative Director for Congressman James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) and is currently on the Democratic Staff of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. Mr. Cromer has also served for many years on the Vestry of the Parish of St. Monica and St. James, Capitol Hill.
Vacancy — Submit application for Commissioner position
Griffin Lotson — Griffin Lotson is Chief Executive Officer of the non-profit Sams Memorial Community Economic Development, Inc., as well as manager of the nationally acclaimed Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters. A resident of Darien, GA, Lotson has traced his Gullah Geechee family history back seven generations. He has worked as a community input adviser with the National Park Service Low Country Gullah Culture Special Resource study and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission. Lotson has also worked with The Georgia Sea Island Singers, SICARS (Sapelo Island, GA), Penn Center (St. Helena Island, SC), the Coastal African American Action Network (GA), the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition (GA) and Geechee Kunda (GA). Lotson has raised over $10 million with grants and other funding for communities in the area of cultural arts, economic development, housing and educational programs. Traveling to Sierra Leone, he served as special consultant to the Sierra Leone Africa Government chief protocol office of foreign affairs, working also with Professor Joseph Opala, Director of the Bunce Island Coalition and Isatu Smith, a Sierra Leonean who is the deputy director. He also met with Gullah Kinship of Sierra Leone Africa.
Wilson W. Moran — Wilson Washmon Moran is a community activist and winner of numerous awards including the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership (University of Georgia). He is Chairman of the Deacons Ministry at his church, Sunday School teacher and community Bible study teacher. His affiliation with the Gullah Geechee Corridor goes back to the creation of the feasibility study. Mr. Moran has also lectured at universities and high schools and served as tour guide for countless entities who promote Gullah culture.
Debra Dozier-Coulter — Debra Dozier-Coulter is a historian, researcher and minister. Her core competencies include the following: researcher, instructor, interactive and engaging historian, writing her master’s thesis on the Gullah Culture of Coastal Carolina. She also has a background in working with corporations, government, nonprofits, social services and K-12 and higher education.
Vacancy — Submit application for Commissioner position
Sylvia Jenkins Ezelonwu — Sylvia Jenkins Ezelonwu is a native of Loris, SC, and resides in Wilmington, NC. She is a retired educator with 32 years of experience in North Carolina Schools as a teacher and an assistant principal. She received her Ed.D from South Carolina State University and B.A. and M.A. degrees from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. She is currently involved with Gullah-Geechee activities as part of the Wilmington Gullah-Geechee Caucus of the African American Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear which includes promoting a repository for Gullah-Geechee artifacts and files, regional walking tours, recruiting and training junior historians, conducting research and developing a speaker’s bureau.
Eulis A. Willis — Eulis A. Willis was elected Mayor of Navassa, North Carolina, in 1999 after serving terms as Town Councilman and as Mayor pro-tem. He is also currently Treasurer of the Southeastern Black Mayors Association. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971. Mayor Willis is also the author of Navassa—The Town and its People, published in 1993.
Lee E. Monroe, Jr. — Lee Everett Monroe, Jr. is currently an instructor with Capella University, School of Education. His academic achievements include past President of three colleges; Voorhees College, Denmark, SC; Paul Quinn College, Dallas,Texas and Florida Memorial College in Miami, Florida. Dr. Monroe’s expertise also covers consulting services, program development and community relations specialist. His knowledge of Gullah Culture is very strong and vividly recalled in his writings. Dr. Monroe has garnered numerous honors and awards for his community work and educational leadership skills.
Vacancy — Submit application for Commissioner position
Anthony E. Dixon — Anthony E. Dixon earned his B.S degree in 1994 and Master's degree in 2001 from Florida A&M University. In 2007, he received his Ph.D. in History from Indiana University. Dr. Dixon's work involving the Gullah culture is taken from a diaspora approach. By researching the cultural connections between the Gullah people and the Black Seminoles, Dr. Dixon has established the existence of a Gullah diaspora, which has extended itself beyond the borders of the corridor as well as the United States to include an international aspect to the Gullah culture found in such countries as the Bahamas and Mexico.
Antoinette Jackson — Antoinette Jackson is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She has a Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Florida and a MBA from Xavier University in Cincinnati. She is interested in issues of identity and representation at national heritage sites. Dr. Jackson's research focus is heritage tourism and the business of heritage resource management in the U.S. and the Caribbean. She completed two ethno-historical studies of southeast coastal plantations and surrounding communities for the National Park Service—Snee Farm Plantation in Mount Pleasant, SC and Kingsley Plantation Community in Jacksonville, FL. A New Orleans native, Dr. Jackson worked as a Product Manager for AT&T and Lucent Technologies before leaving her corporate career to pursue her passion—sharing the countless untold stories of African people in America.
Saundra R. Morene — Saundra Robinson Morene is Vice President of Operations, Jacksonville Gullah Geechee Community Development Corporation. Her strengths are gained from her long-term community leadership and affiliations including the Jacksonville Urban League (at age 14), President of the FAMU Pharmacy Alumni Association, Chair of the Susan B. Komen African American Breast Cancer Initiative, Secretary of the Jacksonville Democratic Black Caucus. Ms. Morene can boast her attendance at early Gullah Geechee Corridor formation meetings at Florida A&M University in the early 70's.
Martha Russell Bireda — Martha Russell Bireda is the Founder/Executive Director for the Blanchard House Museum of African American History and Culture of Charlotte County. She has authored several publications related to culture and diversity issues utilizing her expertise in teaching, counseling, consulting, public speaking, research, curriculum design and program development. Dr. Bireda also collects oral histories, designs exhibits and serves as a contributing columnist.
NPS Gullah Geechee Community Partnership Specialist
Michael A. Allen grew up in Kingstree, South Carolina, and is a 1982 graduate of South Carolina State College with a degree in History Education. He began his public career as a Cooperative Education Student with the National Park Service in 1980. Mr. Allen has served as a Park Ranger, Education Specialist and is the Community Partnership Specialist for The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor/Fort Sumter National Monument and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. Married with two sons, he lives in Mount Pleasant, SC, is active in community affairs and is Co-Pastor of Beyond the Church Walls Ministries.
Michael Allen has been a community activist for most of his professional life. He played a major role in the National Park Service's Gullah-Geechee Special Resource Study, which began in 2000, examining the feasibility and suitability of establishing educational centers as well as determining ways to increase interpretation and preservation of this valuable culture. In October of 2006 the U.S. Congress, under the leadership of James E. Clyburn (SC-06), the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Act was passed, establishing the first African American Heritage Area in the country. The following year, Mr. Allen was instrumental in the establishment of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Commission, which comprises 25 members from all four states of the corridor. His primary responsibility is to ensure that this journey of establishing a new National Heritage Area becomes a reality in an effort to provide hope, opportunity and support to grass root organizations and the wider Gullah Geechee Community. In 2009 Mr. Allen was formally elevated to the Coordinator Position for the Corridor and is directing the efforts to develop a Management plan, which will guide the operations of the corridor for the next decade.
Mr. Allen has also been involved in designing exhibits and presenting interpretive programs that involve local communities and history. These programs are designed to attract non-traditional audiences to National Park Service sites. In 1999 he was instrumental in erecting the African Importation Historic Marker on Sullivan Island. In 2008 he assisted the Toni Morrison Society in erecting a Bench by the Road at Fort Moultrie to memorialize the island’s participation in the African slave trade. Finally, in 2009, he was instrumental in unveiling African Passages, an exhibit which highlights the African arrival, presence and contributions to Gullah Geechee Culture and American society through the eyes of Africans and African Americans who passed through Sullivan Island on their way to enslavement.
Mr. Allen is a founding Board Member of the International African American Museum, which is slated to open in 2015 in Charleston, SC. It will offer a glimpse of Africans and African Americans contributions in the making of the modern world. In addition, he was a founding member and former Vice President of the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission.