As one of his final acts in office, President Barack Obama announced Thursday the creation of a national monument to the Reconstruction Era in Beaufort County.
The monument will include Darrah Hall on the campus of Penn Center, Brick Baptist Church, Camp Saxton and the Emancipation Oak on the site of the current Naval Hospital Beaufort in Port Royal and a former Beaufort firehouse.
“I want to thank President Obama for establishing the Reconstruction Era National Monument,” U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn said in a statement. “For a long time, this period of history has been ignored and is often misunderstood or misrepresented.”
A National Park Service study concluded Beaufort County was the most logical place for a monument to the period during and after the Civil War because of the saturation of important sites.
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Brick Baptist Church held some of the first classes for former slaves, Penn School later moving to the current campus. The Emancipation Proclamation was read before thousands of slaves at the Emancipation Oak in 1863, and some of the first black soldiers in the U.S. Army were based at Camp Saxton.
The firehouse on Craven Street is within walking distance to dozens of relevant sites, including the downtown Beaufort home of Robert Smalls, an escaped slave who became a Civil War hero and congressman.
Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, who donated the firehouse as part of the monument, said the designation could help kickstart “dialogue and conversations that have been long overdue.”
Clyburn and National Park Service director Jonathan Jarvis heard unanimous support for the monument during a public meeting at Brick Baptist Church in December.
In his statement, Clyburn said he would work to ensure sites not included in the monument would be properly recognized. Those would include Smalls’ Prince Street home and Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island, the first self-governed community of freed slaves.
“The story of Reconstruction has not been completely told, and there is no other place that is as important to telling the story as Beaufort County,” Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray said in a statement.