Penn Center Celebrates Gullah Geechee Culture
South Carolina is filled with historical landmarks, rich cultural history and people who take great pride in its preservation. If you have a passion for the past, look no further than your backyard on St. Helena Island, where you will find the Penn Center.
This landmark is the site of the former Penn School, one of the country's first schools for freed slaves. Founded in 1862, Penn School was one of the first academic schools in the South established by Northern missionaries, to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved West Africans. After the school closed in 1948, Penn became the first African American site in South Carolina whose primary purpose was to safeguard the heritage of the Gullah Geechee community.
Cultural preservation is enthusiastic work, as many South Carolinians can easily attest to. In illustration of this point, the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) keeps a list of, ‘America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places,’ and yes, you guessed it, the Penn Center made the list in both 1990 and 1991. After being added to the list in 1990, several campus buildings were restored and the renamed Penn Center has become a national leader in cultural preservation that President Obama recognized in 2017 as part of the Reconstruction Era National Monument.
“As the site of one of the first schools for freed slaves, Penn Center sheds light on the contributions and stories of African-American communities that have been overlooked within the traditional boundaries of historic preservation and education history,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Beyond its historic significance, Penn Center’s current role as a catalyst for economic sustainability—through its service as a local, national and international resource center for community self-sufficiency, civil and human rights, and positive change—highlights the potential of adaptive reuse solutions in the South.”
The Penn Center is located approximately seven miles South of Beaufort. Travel south on Hwy 21 (Sea Island Parkway) through Lady’s Island, onto St. Helena Island. Turn right on Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and the entrance to the grounds is a quarter mile on the right. Admission is very reasonable: Adults $5; Students $3 and children under six are free. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00am to 4:00pm.
Is you want to experience South Carolina’s culture of preservation, visit the Penn Center or one of many other museums, landmarks or parks. Better yet, get involved right here on Dataw Island by joining the Conservancy or the Historical Society. If you’d like to branch out, go online and Google South Carolina and preservation efforts – you’ll find dozens of web pages dedicated to a variety of different current efforts all over the state with plenty of opportunities to volunteer in your local community. With so many people showing such obvious passion, it’s no wonder that South Carolina is such a beautiful, well-preserved place to live.
National Trust for Historic Preservation – Press release released on May 10th, 2017 titled, “South Carolina’s Penn Center Named To List Of ‘America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places” Success Stories.