St. Helena Island, SC – Penn Center is tremendously grateful to the Beaufort County for a generous grant in the amount of $822,000. The grant will help to restore and preserve several of the historic buildings on the campus. It will enhance our efforts to promote our history, heritage, tourism, education and jobs for the community.
Penn Center is one of the most significant African American historical and cultural institutions in existence today. The 50-acre Historic District on St. Helena Island is one of the most beautiful and historically distinct of the South Carolina Sea Islands in the heart of Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor.
Penn Center, founded in 1862 as Penn School, a central component of the Port Royal Experiment, was one of the first academic schools in the South for formerly enslaved West Africans known as Gullah Geechee people. The school reorganized in 1901 to become the Penn Normal, Agricultural and Industrial School and existed for eighty-six years. Penn Center played a transformative role in education and community self-reliance throughout the southern coastal communities. After the school was removed to the Beaufort County School District, it became Penn Community Services, taking on the mantle of social justice and ushering in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences and other multi-racial groups and organizations like the Peace Corps.
Designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1974, Penn Center is a repository of historical and cultural heritage of the African American Sea Island experience. Penn Center has one of the most important collections of early photographs, artifacts and scholarly papers. Located at Penn, the York W. Bailey Museum tells the story of Penn School and the West African people who formed a unique and distinct culture. The museum features rare photographs dating back to the 1860’s and an array of unique artifacts and publications.
In 2017, President Barack Obama designated four sites in Beaufort County, SC a Reconstruction Era National Monument. Most recently, in March 2019, the monument became the Reconstruction Era National Historic Park. The founding of Penn School in 1862 marks the beginning of Reconstruction and this designation has well positioned Penn Center to share the under told and unknown history of the Reconstruction Era.
Penn Center’s mission is to promote and preserve Penn’s true history and culture through its commitment to education, community development and social justice. Penn accomplishes its mission by serving as a local, national and international education center and by vigorously promoting the influence of the Gullah Geechee culture and the Reconstruction Era history on our nation’s collective heritage.
Restoration is scheduled to begin soon on Penn Center’s campus. Additional information will be provided as available.