Group to compile Bluffton's African-American history

cconley@islandpacket.comSeptember 24, 2012 

A group of Bluffton-area history buffs has formed a historical society whose main focus is on the contributions made by African-Americans.

The Bluffton Township Black History Historical Preservation Society, created in June, plans to conduct research and collect and organize important documents. Its members also hope to gather oral histories from longtime residents.

"Being a buff for history, I decided that we needed to do something to express the history of the people of the area from our point of view," said Renty Kitty, 53, pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Okatie and president of the new historical society.

Much like the Mitchelville settlement on Hilton Head Island, which was the first village for feed slaves in the U.S., the Bluffton area has a rich history of its own, Kitty says.

And much of it remains untold.

For example, Kitty says, many Africans began arriving in colonial South Carolina in about 1750 to assist with rice production. Colonists, he said, were unskilled at growing rice and began importing slaves from Sierra Leone to establish the crop. Within a few decades, rice had become a major cash crop that helped establish the colony.

"We want to find our niche, to see where our Mitchelville is," Kitty said. "We want to know, where did our township begin in the Bluffton Township?"

For now, the group has about 10 active members and six honorary members, but it probably will get some help soon. Maureen Richards of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society said she hopes to work with the group to fill in missing parts of local history.

"I really would like to work with this organization to see if we can connect with the Gullah-Geechee Corridor and all of the little Bluffton pieces of the local African-American history," she said.

Town officials also support the group. Mayor Lisa Sulka presented its members with a proclamation this month endorsing their efforts to collect historical information.

Although the group's emphasis will be on African-American history, Kitty says it won't ignore contributions by other Blufftonians.

"By no means do we intend to leave anyone out. Blacks and whites have always lived in this area together. We want to exchange information to preserve all cultures," he said.

Kitty believes the group could become a model for other communities across the region.

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