3 reasons to visit ‘Dawn of Freedom’ Mitchelville exhibit at USC

acoyne@thestate.comMay 29, 2013 

In 1862, a group of freed slaves founded a town on Hilton Head Island that would become the first in which African-Americans governed themselves.

Now, an exhibit dedicated to that town, Mitchelville, is headed into its final weekend at the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum.

Here are three reasons to stop by “Dawn of Freedom: The Freedmen’s Town of Mitchelville:”

•  The exhibit features a variety of photos, letters and documents from events leading up to the town’s creation, as well as during the time the town was established. Founded a year after Flag Officer Samuel F. DuPont and Gen. Thomas Sherman led an attack on Fort Walker on Hilton Head Island and Fort Beauregard on St. Phillips Island, Mitchelville was largely populated by slaves who had liberated themselves from area plantations. The exhibit includes firsthand accounts of Civil War conflicts, including the Battle of Port Royal, and a plan of attack drafted by DuPont. Pages from magazines like Harper’s Weekly and photos of residents depict life in Mitchelville.

• Some who can trace their family lines deep into South Carolina’s history may be able to find ties to Mitchelville through this exhibit. An extensive list of known residents is featured, as well as a roster of Union army “contrabands” — freed slaves who escaped to military camps and served as laborers — many of whom moved to Mitchelville when it was founded.

• The exhibit brings to light a part of South Carolina’s history not widely known. Artifacts and documents piece together an almost forgotten period spanning from the Civil War to Reconstruction during which a town of African-Americans, peaking at a population of 3,000 in 1864, governed themselves, voted in elections and enacted the state’s first mandatory schooling law.

The free exhibit runs through Saturday at McKissick Museum on USC’s Horseshoe. The museum is open from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

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