Historian Willie Lee Rose, whose work told the world of Beaufort County's pivotal role in American history during and after the Civil War, died June 20.
She gave new birth to America's view of Reconstruction with her 1964 book, "Rehearsal for Reconstruction: The Port Royal Experiment."
Today that research can be directly linked to the 2017 creation of the National Park Service Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort County.
Rose, 91, died in Baltimore, where she had been a professor at Johns Hopkins University before a stroke in 1978 cut her life's work short.
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Her work dismantled the prevailing view that the Reconstruction era following the Civil War was a tragic failure filled with corruption that logically concluded with a Jim Crow system of segregation between whites and a so-called inferior race.
Rose proved that wrong by coming to Beaufort County and mining the records, diaries, letters and firsthand accounts of the nation's embryonic struggles with racial equality.
She ended up "spotlighting the efforts of well-intentioned reformers and introducing the perspective of newly freed slaves who sought to exercise their freedom for the first time," Harrison Smith writes in Rose's Washington Post obituary.
Her meticulous recounting of what happened here included the perspective and accomplishments of the freedmen, something long left out of America's textbooks.
"Fall came late to South Carolina in 1861," Rose begins her book, which is praised for its writing as well as its fact-gathering.
She then tells how Reconstruction began here near the outset of the Civil War after a federal armada captured Hilton Head Island on Nov. 7, 1861.
Noted Southern historian C. Vann Woodward, a professor at Johns Hopkins University when Rose earned her doctorate with "Rehearsal" as her thesis, describes the complexity of her tale in the book's introduction:
"Very little was settled about the slave's future when the experiment began: whether he was to be entirely free at all, and if free, whether he was to be a serf, a wage laborer, a landowner, a citizen, a soldier, a voter, an officeholder. What were his capacities? What were his rights? If slavery had indeed done the damage the abolitionists claimed, was the slave capable of the equality they promised?
"Nothing had been proved, and a hundred theorists came forward with plans, solutions, and panaceas to be tried out. Organized groups struggled against each other for the allegiance of the slaves, the support of the military, and the backing of Washington authorities."
Rose wrote of a social revolution, which Beaufort County historian Larry Rowland said fit perfectly with the times when her only full-length book was published by the University of Georgia Press.
"It was a very pioneering work," Rowland said. "A lot of people had used individual diaries over the years, but nobody had pulled it all together like she did. She brought all that to light and put it in context and it had a national effect."
During a recent visit to Beaufort, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and historian Eric Foner, who is considered the nation's leading expert on Reconstruction, said nobody has told the story better than Rose.
In 2000, Foner was contacted by then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, who asked him the best place for the National Park Service to tell the story of Reconstruction. Foner said it was Beaufort.
Seventeen years later, that came to pass with the creation of the National Reconstruction Era Monument in Beaufort County, with four sites in and around Beaufort given to the federal government to help tell the story.
"Today, the park is a manifestation of some of Rose's work," said Michael Allen, a retired National Park Service representative in the Lowcountry who worked on the project for almost 20 years.
"Think about how Beaufort County and the Town of Hilton Head Island are now making financial investments in Mitchelville," he said of the site of a planned village for freedmen on Hilton Head. "For many years, it might not have been looked at, but now it is. It is a way we can honor her, and reflect on her. It's another way we can recapture what happened here in terms of today's dialogue."