A tribute by Emory S. Campbell
In my view, Herman Blake has been the quintessential professional community leader. I am proud to consider Herman a dear friend.
I first met Herman beside a highway one late summer morning in Beaufort County, SC in the early 1970’s. As I remember. Thomas C. Barnwell, Jr and I were traveling together in the opposite direction of Herman and as commonly occurred in the rural South back then; Tom and Herman recognized each other’s vehicle almost simultaneously and stopped beside the highway to chat. I had not long become a staff member of the Beaufort- Jasper Comprehensive Health Services (BJCHS) under Tom’s leadership. The agency was organized in 1969 to address the contributing factors of poverty and disease among Gullah families in the two- county area.
After our brief introduction, I was immediately impressed with this young Oak College Provost’s enthusiastic desire to help us change the plight of these Gullah families. Eventually I learned that the young professor had in mind an approach that would involve teaching students the value of community service for long term effect. He proceeded to collaborate with BJCHS on a three-month internship program that required that participating students, travel by bus from Santa Cruz to Beaufort and immerse themselves in the Gullah culture and community service.
His vision has resulted in those students choosing careers that provided outstanding service that have effected systemic change ranging from medical care to academic teachings. For an example, one of his students met her husband during her internship at BJCHS and today and serves as an effective school teacher in Beaufort County.
Herman is an extraordinary thinker and visionary. His scholarship is legendary and he is extremely passionate about helping to develop people to become resourceful in meeting community need. Herman is the person to whom I give credit for me achieving a sense of self and place. He has led by example in that he has always been willing to live in the community. That is why he so easily led his students in publishing “The Sea Islands as a Cultural Resource” that drastically changed my personal view of the Gullah culture. I was transformed by that superb work along with referral of scholars and researchers that Herman made to me while I served as Executive Director of Penn Center. Before learning from Herman’s teachings, I was one who shunned parts of my own Gullah culture. Today I proudly share leadership with Herman and others on the GullahGechee Heritage Corridor Commission in preserving and interpreting the Gullah Geechee culture on the for posterity.
Emory S. Campbell
Executive Director, Emeritus, Penn Center
April 21, 2013