News Release Date: December 15, 2016
Contact: Jeremy Barnum, 202-208-6843WASHINGTON – National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on Thursday heard broad public and political support for proposals to add historic locations related to the Reconstruction Era in South Carolina to the National Park System at a public meeting in Beaufort County. Director Jarvis attended the public meeting and visited the proposed sites at the invitation of U.S. Representative James E. Clyburn (D-SC).
“It was an honor to hear enthusiastic and heartfelt comments from a broad and diverse spectrum of the local community that spoke unanimously in support of the President's establishing a new national monument,” said Director Jarvis. “The Reconstruction story that started so hopefully here in Beaufort County is rarely taught and little known. Those in attendance said that this is a story that must be told now, and offered their assistance in the effort.”
The Reconstruction Era began during the Civil War and lasted until the dawn of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s and remains one of the most complicated and poorly understood periods in American History. In this pivotal period, four million African Americans, newly freed from bondage, sought to establish schools and communities, while white southerners faced the challenges of both wartime defeat and slavery’s abolition.
Local community leaders and elected officials are proposing that five sites in Beaufort County be included in the National Park System. Congressman Clyburn introduced model legislation on May 26, 2016, to establish the Penn School - Reconstruction Era National Monument. In addition to Congressional proposals there is also community support, including from Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray and Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, for President Obama to consider using his authority under the Antiquities Act to create a Reconstruction Era national monument in the Beaufort area.
Congressman Clyburn hosted a well-attended community meeting at the Brick Baptist Church, a church that was built by slaves, but later became the site of one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves. Comments from the public were overwhelmingly in favor of including the sites in the National Park System.
“I am very grateful to National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis for his participation in today's public meeting at historic Brick Baptist Church on St Helena Island, SC,” said Congressman Clyburn. “I was pleased and extremely impressed by the overwhelmingly positive outpouring of support from local community members for the designation of a National Monument. There are so many important lessons to be learned about the Reconstruction Era by the current generation and future generations.”
Earlier in the day, Jarvis joined Congressman Clyburn, Mayors Murray and Keyserling and other local community leaders to tour potential sites of a proposed Reconstruction Era national monument in Beaufort County including:
- Darrah Hall and Brick Baptist Church at Penn Center, a National Historic Landmark District that includes the site of one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves and a possible visitor contact station on St. Helena Island for the proposed national monument.
- The Camp Saxton Site, where some of the first African American soldiers were enlisted in the U.S. Army, and the site of Emancipation Grove where elaborate ceremonies were held on New Year’s Day 1863 to announce and celebrate the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.
- The Old Beaufort Firehouse, a possible visitor contact location in downtown Beaufort.
- The Robert Smalls House, associated with the most influential of Beaufort’s African American politicians during the Reconstruction Era.
The Reconstruction Era is a crucial piece of the nation’s history, with deep ties to the Civil War that reach into the Civil Rights Era and beyond, but it is not well represented within the National Park System. One of the ways the National Park Service is working to address this is through its first comprehensive review of nationally significant historical sites of the Reconstruction Era. The project, a National Historic Landmark Theme Study on the U.S. Reconstruction Era is in the final stages of completion and will bring attention to the history of the period of emancipation and Reconstruction after the Civil War and identify landmarks that help tell the nation’s story.
Theme studies are an effective way of identifying and nominating properties for preservation because they provide a national historic context and therefore allow for the comparative analysis of properties associated with a specific area of American history. Beaufort County contains a number of nationally significant resources that represent most of the themes of the story of Reconstruction and figured prominently in the study.
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