South Carolina's Randy Akers

Article excerpt

"Archaeology has been a hobby, an interest, and a passion," says Randy Akers, director of the South Carolina Humanities Council. "I've always felt that archaeology is a way of helping interpret the human story from past to present to future."

Akers has participated in ten archaeological dig seasons in Israel since 1974, including a six-month study at the Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. With a doctorate from Northwestern University in religious studies, Akers has focused on Roman Byzantine sites where early Christianity developed in the Mediterranean world.

In his time at the South Carolina Humanities Council, Akers has worked to interpret what he calls the state's "human story." Since he became director in 1988, the South Carolina Humanities Council has devoted particular attention to studying the culture of the Gullah peoples, who were brought to South Carolina from West Africa during the transatlantic slave trade. After the Civil War, the Gullah peoples were freed and given the abandoned rice and cotton plantations on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina.

In 1989, the council produced the film, Family Across the Sea, which follows the three-hundred year history of the Gullah peoples from Sierra Leone to South Carolina. The film, which won fourteen national awards, looks at the role the Gullah peoples played in the early development of South Carolina agriculture. "One of the reasons so many slaves were brought, especially from Sierra Leone, was that they were proficient in the rice industry and South Carolina became very wealthy early in its existence based on rice plantations," says Akers.

Since the production of the film, the Council has sponsored other projects dealing with the contribution of the Gullah peoples to South Carolina's history, including summer programs on Gullah history and language, crop growth and preservation, and net and basket making. "I'm proud of the work the council has done to try and help us understand a very difficult period in our past, but also in some positive ways to understand that the African influence, history, and heritage is still real and with us today," says Akers. …