Penn Center Heritage Days: Highlight on history, volunteers

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Founded in 1862, the Penn School was one of the first academic schools in the South established by two Northern missionaries, Laura M. Towne and Ellen Murray, to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved Africans. The Gullah people have continued to survive today and represent the most tangible living example of one of the outcomes of the Port Royal Experiment, a plan by the federal government to “test the capabilities of the Negro for freedom and self-support” during the Civil War.
In 1901, the Penn School expanded to become the Penn Normal, Agricultural and Industrial School after adopting the industrial arts curriculum taught at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. As a result, African Americans benefitted greatly from the quality educational training at Penn School, which stood at the forefront of progressivism and reform as it helped to advance an entire generation and community into the Industrial Age after slavery.  Later, in the 1960’s, Penn Center took up the mantle of social justice by ushering in the Civil Rights Movement and serving as the only location in South Carolina where multiracial groups, such as Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Peace Corps, could have safe sanctuary in an era of mandated de jure segregation.
Penn Center’s mission is “to promote and preserve the Sea Islands’ history and culture.”  As the Penn Center commemorates its 150th Anniversary in 2012-2014, it has continued to endure both as a national monument promoting historic preservation, as well as a catalyst for economic sustainability throughout the Sea Islands. Its far-reaching impact on local, national and international communities has been the greatest legacy of the Penn Center’s history.
Penn Center has many programs and events that require many dedicated community-minded individuals giving support and service.  Volunteers are needed immediately to assist in various capacities.  Persons interested in volunteering please contact Ms. Victoria Smalls the History & Culture Coordinator at Penn Center 838-2432.