Champions of the nation’s first national monument to Reconstruction say the initial sites designated in Beaufort County are only the beginning of the story.
President Barack Obama announced Thursday the creation of the monument using his executive power under the Antiquities Act. The monument includes Brick Baptist Church and Penn Center’s Darrah Hall on St. Helena Island, Camp Saxton and the Emancipation Oak in Port Royal, and a former Beaufort firehouse — but many other sites could later be folded in.
Amendments offer hope some of the more than 100 significant sites to Reconstruction identified in Beaufort County will eventually join the monument. Places like Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island, the first self-governed community of freed slaves, and Robert Smalls’ Beaufort home could be considered later.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn noted that potential sites reach into Colleton and Charleston counties.
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“As the old adage goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” the Democratic lawmaker said. “We’re taking four steps with these sites. Hopefully, there will be other steps taken along the way.”
Clyburn pointed to his success establishing cultural corridors in South Carolina when some told him the state was too small. He told reporters Friday he would fight any attempt by Congress and President-elect Donald Trump’s administration to target the Antiquities Act or the monuments established under its authority.
In addition to the Reconstruction monument, Obama also established two national monuments to civil rights in Alabama. With Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaching, Clyburn noted the Reconstruction monument’s ties to the civil rights campaign; Penn Center served as King’s planning retreat.
The National Park Service will work to develop a management plan for the Reconstruction monument, a public process to decide where signs will be placed and other interpretive measures. A plan for funding the monument sites will be worked out as each site works with the Park Service to develop the management plan.
Details to be worked out include access to the grounds of Naval Hospital Beaufort in Port Royal, the site of Camp Saxton and the stand of trees that includes the Emancipation Oak. The firehouse at 706 Craven St. has a commercial tenant, and Darrah Hall would be converted into an interpretive center.
“There will be a lot of moving pieces with a lot of people involved,” Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling said. “The sooner the Park Service comes in to quarterback it, the better.”
The backing of federal park officials gives Beaufort County a large platform to tell its story, said Brian O’Donnell, director of the Conservation Lands Foundation.
Penn Center director Rodell Lawrence said he learned after visiting the Cesar C. Chavez National Monument in Keene, Calif., that Penn could expect two or three times its current 75,000 yearly visitors with the monument designation.
“It will bring needed national recognition to these sites,” O’Donnell said. “Penn Center, Brick Church and others have done a good job of telling their history, but now (they have) the megaphone and the amplification that the National Park Service can provide to get that story out to the nation and the world.”