U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and other federal officials are among those expected to visit Beaufort County next week in what would be a key step toward plans for the nation’s first national monument to Reconstruction.
Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis plan to tour the five sites of the potential monument by bus on the morning of Dec. 15, Penn Center director Rodell Lawrence said. A public meeting will follow from noon to 2 p.m. at Brick Baptist Church on St. Helena Island.
The meeting will allow Clyburn, Jarvis and Capt. Jeffrey Korsnes, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Beaufort, the chance to hear from the public about a proposed national monument, which would encompass five sites in northern Beaufort County central to the history of the period during and after the Civil War.
The national monument would include Brick Baptist Church, Darrah Hall on the campus of Penn Center, the Beaufort home of Robert Smalls, the city’s old fire station on Craven Street and the Emancipation Oak in Port Royal, on the current site of Naval Hospital Beaufort. Smalls was a former slave who, among other accomplishments, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives during Reconstruction.
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“It’s just telling our story,” Lawrence said. “And I’m sure they are going to be taking this thing forward.”
Clyburn’s office formally released details of the meeting Thursday afternoon.
“Our country desperately needs to better understand this era of our history, and including these sites in the National Park System is critical to this effort,” Clyburn said in a statement. “We must preserve these places and stories for future generations as well as make them accessible to the public.”
Politicians and community leaders have been pushing for the monument, which would be the result of a National Park Service study of potential sites. Supporters are hopeful President Barack Obama will create the monument with an executive order before he leaves office.
Supporters have signed an online petition to Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell at change.org.
In May, Clyburn had introduced a bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Mark Sanford, to mark Penn Center as a national monument. The plan has since broadened to multiple sites, and advocates say the best path forward is by way of the Antiquities Act and Obama’s pen.
On Thursday at Penn Center, Lawrence met with Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray, Brick Baptist Church pastor Abraham Murray and Michael B. Moore, the head of the International African American Museum in Charleston and the great-great-grandson of Smalls.
Local supporters have said the National Park Service and Department of Interior have all the necessary documentation to create the monument. Keyserling, Sam Murray, Abraham Murray and Lawrence traveled to Washington, D.C., last month to advocate for the distinction.
“We’re saying lets get a toehold on this thing, and we’ll build on it over time,” Keyserling said in November. “The country is ready for it now.”