African American History

In Beaufort, a picturesque old port town is located on Port Royal Island, one of 64 Sea Isles, which make up Beaufort County. This area is known as the South Carolina Low Country. It is 45 minutes north of Hilton Head Island and 1½ hour south of Charleston. Founded in 1711, Beaufort is the second oldest town in the state. Facing the Intracoastal Waterway Beaufort has one of the best natural harbors on the Atlantic Coast. Today she is the County Seat of Beaufort County.

Penn CenterNearby on St. Helena Island is a collection of 17 buildings on the historic campus of the Penn Center School. Northern Missionaries as the first school in the South established the school in 1862 for freed slaves. Significant in African-American history from the time of emancipation, through the civil rights movement of the 1960s to the present day, this National Landmark District and active community center, preserves the unique past and enriches Lowcountry lives. The center and its museum are open daily.

Influences of Africa have touched South Carolina’s coast since early exploration days, when Africans sailed with Spanish galleons 500 years ago. When the thousands of Africans, later enslaved, survived the middle passage to reach these shores, their ancestral traditions survived as well.

The majority of slaves brought to labor on local Plantations came from a section of Africa known as Angola. It is thought by many that this led to what is known today as the Gullah Culture. This rich culture is alive and well today. The African-Americans living here still speak its dialect; engage in art, cooking, storytelling, and music representing this heritage. With the people, Mende and Kisi, Malinke and Bantu came the soul of Africa, in their language, their music, their skills and their foodways, the rich legacy of a hundred tribes. The nuance of Africa resounds in Lowcountry life and the culture of a people lives on.

The Nickelodeon television series, Gullah Gullah Island, has introduced youngsters nationwide to Lowcountry treasures. With many segments filmed on location in the Beaufort area, the series stars Beaufort’s Ron and Natalie Daise.

There are two major annual festivals also celebrate African-American culture. The Heritage Days celebration takes place each November, while the Gullah Festival is staged each May.
The Beaufort area is home to various well-known artists, authors and performing artists. Local shops feature their work, theatres their presentations. Even before the Civil War Beaufort was known as the cultural center for the Low Country and this tradition continues today.

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