Clyburn Statement on Establishment of Reconstruction Era National Monument

Jan 13, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C.Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn released the following statement regarding President Barack Obama’s proclamation establishing the Reconstruction Era National Monument.  The monument will become a unit of the National Park Service consisting of historic sites from the Reconstruction Era (January 1, 1863 – March 31, 1877) in St. Helena Island, Beaufort, and Port Royal, South Carolina.

“I want to thank President Obama for establishing the Reconstruction Era National Monument.  For a long time, this period of history has been ignored and is often misunderstood or misrepresented.  Beginning January 1, 1863 and continuing until March 31, 1877, newly freed slaves were guaranteed civil rights by the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the United States Constitution.  They bought property, founded communities, built schools and organized churches, and were elected to political offices.

“Reconstruction had some of its earliest and most significant impact in Beaufort County, South Carolina.  For the last two decades, many communities in Beaufort County have worked to recognize and preserve their Reconstruction heritage and to create a unit of the National Park Service linking these historic sites together.  Today’s announcement is a great tribute to their years of work and sacrifice on this endeavor.

“Penn Center, originally called Penn School, was established in 1862 as the first school in the South for former slaves.  It moved to its current campus, now part of the national monument, in 1864 and continues there to this day.  The Board of Trustees has donated Darrah Hall, the oldest building on Penn Center’s campus, to the National Park Service to be used as an interpretive center.  I extend my thanks to Chairman Clifford Bush, Executive Director Rodell Lawrence, and the entire Board of Trustees and staff for their contributions to this important cause.

“Brick Baptist Church, adjacent to Penn Center, was built in 1855 by slaves who were relegated to its balcony out of the sight and presence of white worshipers.  Following the Battle of Port Royal in 1861, slaves assumed control over the church.  Before Penn School expanded to its current location, early classes were held in the Brick Baptist Church building, which still stands today.  Under the leadership of Rev. Abraham Murray, the church is now part of the national monument, and the congregation donated a historic preservation easement to the National Park Service to ensure this structure will be preserved in perpetuity.

“Downtown Beaufort features many historic sites from the era, and the national monument will include the old firehouse building to be used as a visitor center for the many significant Reconstruction Era sites in the area.  I want to thank Mayor Billy Keyserling for his family’s donation of the building and for all of his advocacy and efforts to galvanize community support for this designation.

“The monument also features the Camp Saxton Site in Port Royal where on January 1, 1863, Union General Rufus Saxton assembled 3,000 slaves from the surrounding Sea Islands to read the Emancipation Proclamation, the first such reading in the South.  On the grounds of the U.S. Naval Hospital Beaufort, this site will be opened up to the public once an agreement between the Navy and the National Park Service is finalized.

“Importantly, today’s announcement is not a final product, but a first step in protecting and preserving the many Reconstruction Era sites in Beaufort County.  While sites like Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island, the first self-governed freedmen’s town, and the various sites associated with the life and career of the legendary Robert Smalls are not part of today’s announcement, I am committed to continue working to ensure that all of the deserving sites are given their due.

“In addition to President Obama, I would also like to thank Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, and the entire staffs from the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service for their efforts to make this long-held dream a reality. Finally, I would like to thank former Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the Conservation Lands Foundation for their steadfast support of this effort.”

Click here to read President Barack Obama's proclamation: