Penn Center receives grant to compile Civil Rights Movement oral history

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Penn Center has received a grant from the National Park Service in the amount of $50,000 to support an oral history project, which will collect the histories of 30 key Civil Rights Movement workers, who were with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at Penn Center between 1963 and 1967.

Penn Center played a pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. After 86-years serving the educational needs of the Gullah-Geechee people in the Sea Islands, Penn School transformed to become Penn Community Services, and took on the mantle of social justice, ushering in the Civil Rights Movement.

During a time of mandated segregation, Penn served as one of only two sites in the South where multi-racial groups could hold meetings and have safe sanctuary. 

Penn Center and the St. Helena Island community welcomed King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conferences (SCLC), along with other multi-racial groups, religious groups and organizations like the Peace Corps.

Marion Burns, Penn Center’s Interim Executive Director said in a release: “Local and regional civil rights and social justice workers strategized and planned the Civil Rights Movement on a grassroots and national level, right here on the sacred grounds of Penn Center. These are the histories and stories that Penn’s oral history project desires to capture, preserve and share nationally and internationally. We are profoundly grateful to the National Park Service for their continued support.”

The National Park Service announced $12.259 million in African American Civil Rights grants to fund 44 projects across 17 states that will preserve and highlight stories related to the African American struggle for equality in the 20th century. Penn Center’s project is one of the 44 projects awarded.
“Through the work and engagement of public and private partners, these grants will preserve a defining part of our nation’s diverse history,” National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith said. “By working with underrepresented communities to preserve their historic places and stories, we will help tell a more complete narrative of the African American experience in the pursuit of civil rights.”

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