January 1998

Emory Shaw Campbell

Community Leader

Emory Shaw Campbell

Emory Shaw Campbell is an example of a native son who left his early environment and later returned not only as a leader but also as a visionary and proponent of constructive programs and policies. He was born in 1941 on Hilton Head, one of many islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Because of the isolation of these sea islands, the inhabitants were able to maintain their unique culture and language patterns. From his parents and grandparents, Campbell learned the importance of education, family and community. His parents and paternal grandparents were all teachers. When Campbell was young, high schools did not exist on Hilton Head Island. However, he was able to attend high school in the town of Bluffton, which had been recently linked to Hilton Head via a bridge. He studied at the segregated Michael C. Riley High School, graduating in 1960 as class valedictorian. Enrolling at Savannah State College, Campbell showed his determination to succeed by making a forty mile a day commute, often hitchhiking in order to attend classes. In 1965, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology. Joining the microbiology department at the Harvard School of Public Health, he researched by day and tutored students in the evening. Campbell’s concern for the future of the sea islands became apparent as he continued his education. Observing that “the urgent need on South Carolina’s sea islands was skills among the indigenous citizens to address issues related to their environment and cultural heritage,” Campbell was true to his convictions. After completing his M.A. at Tufts University in Boston, he returned to South Carolina to work at the Comprehensive Health Agency for Beaufort and Jasper counties. For almost ten years, he traveled throughout the sea islands, addressing environmental issues which affected the daily lives of the islands’ people. His goal was to inform and discuss methods of preserving and enhancing the unique and rich Gullah heritage in the face of rapid development on the islands. In 1980, Campbell took a step closer to his goal by becoming the executive director of Penn Center on St. Helena Island. (Founded in 1862, during the Civil War, by northern missionaries and teachers to help freed slaves as part of the Port Royal experiment, Penn Center became the first industrial training school for African-Americans in the United States.) He vigorously embarked on a program to revive the center’s historical significance and to preserve the culture of the sea islands. To help achieve this, he organized the now nationally recognized Penn Center Heritage Days Celebration. He also revised the family farm program and expanded the museum program to assist writers, film makers and authors, among them Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Patricia Jones-Jackson and VertaMae Grosvenor Campbell has appeared in many documentaries, news magazines, films and radio and television programs, including 60 Minutes, the Today Show and a PBS special, Family Across The Sea. The contribution that Emory Shaw Campbell has made to the cultural heritage of South Carolina is enormous. He and his family live on Hilton Head Island, where he grew up and developed his love of the sea islands.