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Support National Reconstruction Era Monument in Beaufort County, SC

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A petition to President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging them to establish a multi-site Reconstruction Monument in Beaufort County, SC.

Whereas, shortly after the beginning of the Civil War, a period known as the “Rehearsal for Reconstruction” also known as the “Port Royal Experiment” began preparing freed slaves for self sufficiency and citizenship, was launched in Beaufort County, SC; and 

Whereas, in 1855 Brick Baptist Church was built by enslaved people for white plantation owners.  After the Battle of Port Royal, the “Big Gun Shoot”, the church was turned over to 8,000 black congregants in 1861. In October of 1862 Penn School opened its doors at Brick with the co-founders Laura M. Towne and Ellen Murray.  Special classes for the Deacons and church leaders were started in 1865. It is the oldest church on St. Helena Island and is still used today as an active congregation; and

Whereas, Penn Center, founded in 1862 as Penn School, a central component of the Port Royal Experiment, was one of the first schools in the South for formerly enslaved West Africans, reorganized as the Penn Normal, Agricultural and Industrial School, existed for eighty-six years; and

Whereas, Beaufort was the home of Robert Smalls, a former slave who became a champion of free public education and was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives; and

Whereas, Harriet Tubman came to Beaufort County in 1862 to help aide the newly freed slaves; and

Whereas, in 1862 the Mitchelville settlement on Hilton Head was established as the first self-governing community for newly freed slaves; and

Whereas, on January 1, 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was read on Smith Plantation, now the grounds of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Port Royal, and a crowd of ex-slaves was urged to make a new nation; and

Whereas, Beaufort County, SC is near the geographic center of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor whose goals are to recognize the important contributions made to American culture and history by African Americans known as Gullah Geechee, and assist in identifying and preserving sites, historical data, artifacts, and objects associated with the Gullah Geechee for the benefit and education of the public. The period of reconstruction is an integral part of the Gullah Geechee story; and

Whereas, all aspects of Reconstruction’s story – educational and political opportunities, transitions in the economy, and new religious and social institutions -- from that period are well represented by more than 100 historic buildings and sites in Beaufort County, SC; and

Whereas, the National Park Service has over thirty sites that focus on the Civil War yet not one single park or monument has been dedicated to remembering the Reconstruction Era; and

Whereas, a special study commissioned by the National Park Service recently concluded that Beaufort County, SC is the most appropriate place in the country for telling the story of Reconstruction; and

Whereas, the United States has struggled for a century and a half to remember what happened in the wake of Slavery’s abolition; and

Whereas, there is little recorded history of this important period of US History; and

Whereas, it is essential that the United States confront all of America’s past, particularly the parts about which we know very little; and

Whereas, our country learns and grows when we harness our collective power to better understand the past; and

Whereas, Congressman James Clyburn, with the support of Congressman Mark Sanford, introduced legislation to create a National Reconstruction Monument in Beaufort, County, SC; and

Whereas, owners of significant Reconstruction Period sites and structures are prepared to donate these assets to the National Park Service as part of the proposed multi-site Monument;

Therefore, the undersigned -- in concert with more than a dozen local and national historical and environmental organizations -- urge President Obama, through the use of the Antiquities Act, to move forward with the designation of a new unit of the National Park Service in Beaufort County, SC to remember Reconstruction.



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