South Carolina Republican senators failed to strip $4 million worth of earmarks from a state budget proposal, including $200,000 to help preserve Mitchelville. The 150-year-old site on Hilton Head Island is believed to be America's first planned community for freed slaves.
The S.C. Senate resumed debate Thursday on amendments to the 2012-13 budget. Among the items discussed was a measure from Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, stripping a list of projects earmarked for private nonprofits and local governments, including the Mitchelville Preservation Project. The amendment failed 23 to 17.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who supports Mitchelville's restoration, voted for the amendment.
"Though I support the Mitchelville project, I do not think it should be funded via a political earmark," Davis wrote in response to an Island Packet email.
A limited-government advocate, Davis said he'd rather see the projects go through a competitive selection process before the appropriate executive agency, which in the this case would be the Department of Archives and History.
Massey said he has nothing against the projects earmarked in the budget, but does not believe they ought to be a state taxpayer obligation.
The budget now moves to the S.C. House of Representatives for consideration.
Mitchelville was established in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation and a year after Union ships drove Confederate troops from Hilton Head.
The "contraband" slaves left behind Union lines and those who fled from nearby plantations to refuge among Union troops were allowed to govern and educate themselves, electing their own officials and passing their own laws before amendments to the Constitution granted such rights to African Americans.
The nonprofit group seeking to preserve the site hopes to use the state money to help buy plots adjoining 35-acres of town- and county-donated land along Beach City Road.
The land abuts Fish Haul Creek Park, which the Town of Hilton Head has tentatively agreed to lease to the group so parts of the village can be recreated. The 10.5 acres would help the group preserve more of Mitchelville, which over time has been split, built up, sold, resold and eyed for development.