How do the Reconstruction era, the Bluffton Bulldogs and the Spanish Wells Club help define who we are?
Our study of the Reconstruction era is helping Beaufort County — and the United States of America — understand itself.
That process will take center stage, literally, when Yale professor David W. Blight speaks in Beaufort Nov. 7 at the official launch of the University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Institute for the Study of the Reconstruction Era.
That’s heady stuff for a small town, isn’t it? That’s how we roll.
Blight is a leading national scholar on the era that began right here in Beaufort County. Its importance, and our role in it, has been recognized by the National Park Service. And now the history department at USCB, led by Brent Morris, has created what it calls “the first scholarly center devoted entirely to the study of the Reconstruction era.”
So, we are a learned people. And we are willing to take fresh looks at old beliefs.
The institute website says: “It is unlikely that any other period of American history has undergone so many and so sweeping reassessments than the post-Civil War years.”
It tells a new story to students, visiting teachers, scholars and a curious nation.
“The post-Civil War end of slavery not only brought freedom to African Americans but also inaugurated a comprehensive and protracted reshaping of fundamental American institutions and the very definition of American citizenship itself,” the institute says.
That protracted reshaping began in Beaufort, Port Royal and Hilton Head Island. And it will continue with the new institute, a healthy sign for a small school that began a major transformation 20 years ago when Jane Upshaw was named head of USCB.
That tells us a lot about who we are.
My generation was taught that Reconstruction was the South’s darkest hour, when Northern “carpetbaggers” and Southern “scalawags” corrupted a noble but defeated society. White “redeemers” would rightfully, we were told, squash the terrible takeover through Jim Crow segregation that took away the African American vote.
Reconstruction started in Beaufort, and now Beaufort will help the nation wrestle with the truth of what happened, and how it ended.
“The neglected history,” the institute says, “is one of a period of tremendous and revolutionary accomplishment for former slaves: dozens newly-freed men served in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress; men and women once considered property formalized longstanding marriages in church services; once illegal, schools for African Americans proliferated in the South; and, no less important or impressive, African Americans went where they pleased, were paid for their labor, and lived without the once-constant fear of arbitrary violence or being sold apart from loved ones.”
Historian David Blight’s address is free and open to the public at 6 p.m. Nov. 7 at the USCB Performing Arts Center on Carteret Street in Beaufort. From 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., he is to be available to sign copies of his new book, “Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom,” the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner in history.
Spanish Wells Club
This clubhouse on the banks of Calibogue Sound is small in size — more like a pocket watch for the grand clubs we see so much of today. But it makes a big statement about who we are, and how we got here.
The Spanish Wells Club represents an era of simplicity on Hilton Head Island, when people were less concerned with fancy, but wanted to play a little golf and live by the water.
A soiree there on Oct. 26 marked the club’s 50th anniversary.
The Spanish Wells Club sprang from a founding family of the island’s modern development, the McIntoshes of Savannah.
Olin T. McIntosh Sr. was among the investors who bought 20,000 acres of hunting lands on a quiet Gullah island around 1950. They timbered it, then developed a community.
The McIntoshes are “boat people, water people,” the late John M. McIntosh once told me. They developed 360 acres at the end of Spanish Wells Road to be an ungated, water-oriented community with one-acre lots along Calibogue Sound and Broad Creek.
“It wasn’t done as a grand master plan,” John McIntosh said. “We started on the edges and did it one area at a time.
“We thought it was the kind of place people would like to live.”
That simplicity has great value 50 years later for the club, which is a separate entity from the neighborhood. The club stresses that you don’t have to live in Spanish Wells to be a member of the club.
It has four tennis courts with another on the way, a swimming pool, deepwater dock, a clubhouse and a 9-hole golf course. It was designed by George Cobb in 1969, seven years after he designed the island’s first golf course in Sea Pines. He was best known for designing the par-3 course at Augusta National.
In the beginning, there were no tee-times. Today, there are no tee-times. Come when you can. Bring the dog if you like.
Today, the golf world has come around to the Spanish Wells way of thinking. A quicker round of nine holes, or even fewer, is in vogue.
Many of the original Spanish Wells homes have been replaced by mansions since the days when at least two children of Olin T. McIntosh Sr. lived there.
But one secret to how Hilton Head succeeded is that the community builders, including Olin T. McIntosh Jr. and his brother John, lived here, raised kids here and helped found churches here. They set aside the best lots for community uses, like the Spanish Wells clubhouse. They were all-in, not drive-by investors, and we still reap the benefits.
Bluffton was a tiny, 30-mph speed trap on the road to Hilton Head when a few phone calls changed things.
Oddly enough, the calls were about football. They were about pee wee football. And something as humorous as little boys in wobbly helmets helped Bluffton start its own new traditions.
Dianne Reynolds of Bluffton was honored Oct. 26 by the Bluffton Bulldogs for founding the youth football program in 1971 with the assistance of Newton Wise and the late Harvey Bethea.
Reynolds and Wise took a bow in a special ceremony at the sprawling Taj Mahal that is the new May River High School, pleased that what they started is still going strong.
Reynolds and her late husband, Cecil, best known as the longtime magistrate in Bluffton, had two young sons in 1971. Mike was only 5, but Marshall was old enough to play football, but the closest team was on Hilton Head.
“When I found out I had to go to Sea Pines to practice, I thought, ‘I can’t do this,’ “ Reynolds said. “All our friends had sons, so I got on the phone, and about two weeks later we had two guys who used to play football say they’d come out and be coaches, and I was the manager.
“We only had like 12 little boys that first year, and we only played a couple of games with church teams.”
The next year, the whole community was invited, and about 70 young people got involved.
The Bulldogs players and cheerleaders became a green-colored thread of Bluffton’s eccentric small-town fabric.
Somehow, they too help define who we are.
We are people like Dianne Reynolds, who see a need, get on the phone, and fix it.