‘You can feel the history here:’ Norman Reedus, Dave Chappelle visit the Penn Center
A familiar face is returning home to Beaufort and plans to continue shining a light on what she views as an unheralded period of history.
Victoria Smalls, who a little more than a year ago left her native St. Helena Island to help grow the planned International African American Museum in Charleston, is returning to the area, she said this week.
Smalls recently joined the fundraising committee at Penn Center, the St. Helena landmark where her father attended school, and accepted a position leading a campaign to teach the Reconstruction Era in schools, she said in a Facebook post Monday.
“Some of your are aware, that my daughter Layla and I had a deep desire to return home to St. Helena Island and Beaufort to be closer to my family, closer to many of the places that are dear to my heart and to help my community,” Smalls wrote in her post.
In July 2017, Smalls left the staff of Penn Center to work as a program manager at the International African American Museum. The $75 million project is expected to break ground next year.
The decision to leave Penn Center after serving various roles for five years was difficult, Smalls said last year. The campus was the site of one of the first schools for formerly enslaved people and the place Smalls’ parents met.
But she accepted the offer to work with Michael Boulware Moore, the museum CEO and president. Moore is the great-great-grandson of Robert Smalls, who was born a slave in Beaufort, escaped on a Confederate ship during the Civil War and served multiple terms in Congress.
While she’s leaving the museum staff, Smalls remains a commissioner for the federal Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and serves on the S.C. African American Heritage Commission. She’s also a board member of the Beaufort County Black Chamber of Commerce and Pat Conroy Literary Center.
Her new job will be working with the Zinn Education Project to promote teaching what Smalls called the “untold, unheard and buried truth” of Reconstruction, the era during and just after the Civil War.
While at Penn Center, Smalls hosted Dave Chappelle and Norman Reedus for an AMC television series and talked with W. Kamau Bell at Penn Center for his CNN show “United Shades of America.”
Smalls told Bell of her work to bring the Gullah language to local school systems.
“That’s always been my personal mission,” Smalls told Bell. “When I started working with Gullah Geechee and promoting it, preserving it, I said, ‘I want it to be taught like any other language.’”