Jack Boucher, Library of Congress
As his final term in office comes to a close, President Barack Obama has declared four sites in Beaufort County as national monuments to the Reconstruction Era. Recognizing the robust history of the coastal community developed by freed former slaves, the new Reconstruction Era National Monument includes the Brick Baptist Church and Darrah Hall at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island, as well as the Old Firehouse in downtown Beaufort and parts of Camp Saxton in Port Royal where the Emancipation Proclamation was read on New Year’s Day in 1863.
“Today, I am designating new national monuments that preserve critical chapters of our country’s history, from the Civil War to the civil rights movement. These monuments preserve the vibrant history of the Reconstruction Era and its role in redefining freedom,” read a statement from President Obama released Thursday.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn thanked President Obama for the designation and released a statement highlighting the historical significance of the landmarks.
“For a long time, this period of history has been ignored and is often misunderstood or misrepresented. Beginning Jan. 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," said Clyburn. “Reconstruction had some of its earliest and most significant impact in Beaufort County, S.C. 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."
The Reconstruction Era National Monument in Beaufort is one of three new national monuments honoring the country’s civil rights history. The other locations include the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and Freedom Riders National Monument in Alabama. Announced in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Reconstruction Era National Monument establishes the first landmarks in the National Park System focused on telling the story of Reconstruction.
“These stories are part of our shared history,” wrote President Obama. “From designating Stonewall National Monument, our country’s first national monument honoring the LGBT movement, to recognizing the movement for women’s equality through the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument, I have sought to build a more inclusive National Park System and ensure that our national parks, monuments, and public lands are fully reflective of our nation’s diverse history and culture.”