Some roofs are more important than others.
A new roof over the Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Beaufort bears a major burden for a special building, for the city — and all of society.
It was dedicated Saturday, along with a commemoration for Margie Kline Jenkins, who died a year ago and whose work in the community produced the money for the roof.
The national Grand Army of the Republic organization for Union veterans of the Civil War was pivotal in helping the nation mend. It successfully pushed Congress for pensions and other benefits.
But in Beaufort, the Grand Army Hall stands for much more.
It reflects a grand piece of American history in that the veterans it served were African-Americans. The first African-Americans to serve in the Army were mustered in this county.
It was built on Newcastle Street in 1896 as home to David Hunter Post No. 9. The fine building reflects an important slice of Beaufort’s history, when blacks had political and social clout unseen in most Deep South communities.
It stands as a living monument to freedom.
It remains the home of Beaufort’s Memorial Day commemorations. In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic established May 30 as Memorial Day, or what was called Decoration Day in Beaufort. In Beaufort, it was an African-American tradition.
Thousands of graves were decorated with flowers in the Beaufort National Cemetery. And Decoration Day drew hundreds of visitors by train for a full day of a parade, speeches, music, food and entertainment.
Last Saturday’s ceremony shows that the Grand Army Hall remains true the post’s original goals of fraternity, charity and loyalty.
“This was an important event, not only for the role that building and organization played after the Civil War, but the impact it had in the development of the community,” said Ed Allen, Beaufort County coroner.
“I went to things there as a child. It’s still playing a role in community development right now.”
The roof will help.
The building is maintained by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War of Beaufort, Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War of Beaufort and the Fred S. Washington Sr. Woman’s Relief Corp.
A $15,000 grant enabled the roof to be replaced last September. That grant, along with $15,000 for the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War of Beaufort, came from the Multi-Cultural Association of Beaufort County. A framed photograph and commemoration to founder and president Margie Kline Jenkins was dedicated Saturday.
The association is in the process of dissolving, with $95,000 in holdings going to local charities. Its original goal was a community center in Burton, and its primary source of income came from sponsoring a bingo game in Laurel Bay. Nonprofits made good money that way until the state lottery came along.
Current president Sam Murray, mayor of Port Royal, said the new roof brings Jenkins’ efforts full-circle.
“We had our first meeting in the Grand Army Hall,” he said.