St. James Baptist Church will unveil a state historical marker for the Cherry Hill School on Hilton Head Island at a dedication ceremony at 2 p.m. Sept. 20.
The school and church are the only Gullah institutions that remain in the area of historic Mitchelville, the country's first self-governing town for freed and escaped slaves, according to the Rev. Charles E. Hamilton Sr., pastor at St. James church. The school also is one of the few one-room schoolhouses in the nation that remains at its original site, Hamilton added.
Laid out in 1862 on land occupied by the Union Army after the capture of Hilton Head, Beaufort and the Sea Islands the year before, Mitchelville became a refuge for former and runaway slaves from surrounding areas and the first community in South Carolina to establish a compulsory education system.
After the army left at the end of the Civil War, many black residents followed. Those who stayed formed a small interdependent, kindred community of landowners who continued to value and support education, Hamilton said.
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The school was built in the 1930s after the community petitioned the Beaufort County School District to replace a school of the same name that previously operated out of a parsonage of St. James Baptist Church, Hamilton said.
The school ceased operations in 1954. St. James purchased the building in 1956 and now uses it for a weekly soup kitchen, voting location, community meetings and other activities.
The ceremony will be at the church, 209 Dillon Road. Light refreshments will be served at the conclusion, according to the church.
Church leaders hope the Sept. 20 event will be the start of a drive to create a town historic district that will include the restoration and preservation of Mitchelville, St. James Baptist Church (1886), Cherry Hill School (circa 1937), First African Baptist Church (1862), Fort Howell (1864) and Queen Chapel AME Church (1865).
"This will set the tone for solidarity and the vision of the community to reach back and bring to the fore a part of history that would otherwise be lost if we don't acknowledge it and move ahead with its preservation by forming this historic district," Hamilton said.
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