Welcome Center Dedication at Penn Center, Inc. on Historic St. Helena Island, SC
The public is cordially invited to attend Penn Center’s dedication ceremony and reception for the Courtney P. Siceloff Welcome Center Friday, December 12, 2014 at 5 pm.
Courtney P. Siceloff became a lightning rod of the civil rights movement as the first executive director of the Penn Center on St. Helena Island from 1950 to 1969. Courtney Siceloff and his wife, Elizabeth were Quakers who spent their entire lives striving for peace and social justice — in Afghanistan, Atlanta and a quiet Gullah island where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. escaped to plan his nonviolent revolution. Courtney Siceloff passed away on January 28, 2014. For his dedicated service to Penn Center and work in civil and human rights the Penn Center Board of Trustees will dedicate and name the Welcome Center located on the historic grounds the Courtney P. Siceloff Welcome Center.
The dedication ceremony will begin at 5:00 p.m. with a wine and cheese reception immediately following in the York W. Bailey Museum located at 16 Penn Center Circle West, St. Helena Island, SC. This event is free and open to the public. For more information contact Penn Center (843) 838-2432, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website www. penncenter.com.
Information on Courtney P. Siceloff:
Courtney Parker Siceloff passed away in Savannah on January 28, 2014, after a brief illness. He was 92 years old. Courtney led a life of activism and community engagement, always working to build a better world. He grew up in Texas; his father was a Methodist minister who led congregations in small towns across the state. Courtney was in college when WWII broke out. As he graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania, he made a momentous decision. He refused to take up arms, declaring himself a conscientious objector to the war. He served in CPS (Civilian Public Service) camps in West Virginia, Maryland and New Hampshire, working as an intern in psychiatric wards and helping build roads and string telephone and electric lines. At the war’s end, Courtney joined the staff of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Quaker service organization, beginning a lifelong commitment to the beliefs and actions of the Society of Friends (Quakers). He worked for AFSC for several years in the south of France in post-war reconstruction and support for refugee populations. It was on another Quaker expedition that Courtney met his wife Elizabeth. Both joined a post-war trip to Scandinavian countries to study cooperatives and rural development. They met in Copenhagen and were married in Charlotte, NC (Elizabeth’s home town) a year later.
In 1950 Courtney and Elizabeth traveled to the small community of Frogmore, South Carolina, a place they would call home for almost two decades. Courtney became the director of Penn Center. Penn had been founded in 1862 in Low Country South Carolina—territory freed by Union forces—to educate newly freed slaves as teachers and artisans. Under Courtney’s leadership, Penn gained a new name—Penn Community Services Center—and a focus on “self-sufficiency and the advancement and development of the Sea Island community and its inhabitants.” Penn became a community development center and a vital link in the fight for civil rights in the South. For many years, Penn was one of the few places in the region that racially mixed groups could meet. In the early 60’s SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) held retreats there, and Martin Luther King Jr. visited several times. Penn held training sessions for community leaders and organizers across the South. A racially diverse staff of talented community organizers and activists worked in the Low Country in health care, property ownership and farm cooperatives, and fought for equality in everything from education to voting rights.
In 1969, Courtney and Elizabeth made a move halfway around the world. Courtney accepted a position as Deputy Director of the Peace Corps in Afghanistan. The family lived in Kabul, Afghanistan for four years. During this period—before the Soviet invasion of the country and the long period of violence that has followed—Courtney and his team worked to provide education and health care in villages across the country.
The Siceloffs moved to Atlanta in 1973, and Courtney took a staff position with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He worked with community groups across the south, working to ensure projects receiving federal funds were free of racial bias. He held hearings on topics from police brutality in South Florida to the provision of water and sewer lines in South Carolina. Courtney was a member of the Atlanta Friends Meeting and took an active role in leading the meeting toward the construction of a new and larger meeting house, which also included a Quaker school.
After retirement in the 1980’s Courtney and Elizabeth continued to lead by example, often engaging in protests against the death penalty, and in support of a woman’s right to choose. In 2002, at age 81, Courtney was arrested at a sit-in in the offices of Senator Zell Miller, in opposition to the plans being made for the Iraq war. “If you wait until it happens, it’s too late,” said Siceloff, who faced criminal trespass charges that were later dropped. “The time to act is now.”
In 2003 Courtney’s loving wife of 53 years, Elizabeth Taylor Siceloff, passed away. Courtney continued to work for racial equality, for women’s rights, for non-violence, and for the eradication of poverty, until his death. He is survived by a daughter, Mary, in Savannah; a son, John, and grandson, Andrew, in New York City; and an extended family of cousins, nieces and nephews, whose lives have all been enriched by Courtney’s extraordinary life and his vision of a better world.
Information on Penn Center:
For 152 years, Penn Center, Inc., located on St. Helena Island, SC, has been at the epicenter of African American education, historic preservation and social justice for tens of thousands of descendants of formerly enslaved West Africans living in the Sea Islands, known as the Gullah/Geechee people. The Gullah/Geechee people have continued to survive to today and represent the most tangible living example of one of the outcomes of the Port Royal Experiment, a plan by the federal government to “test the capabilities of the Negro for freedom and self-support” during the Civil War.
Founded in 1862, Penn School was one of the first academic schools in the South established by two Northern missionaries, Laura M. Towne and Ellen Murray, to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved West Africans. In 1901, the Penn School expanded to become the Penn Normal, Agricultural and Industrial School after adopting the industrial arts curriculum taught at Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes. As a result, African Americans benefitted greatly from the quality educational training at Penn School, which stood at the forefront of progressivism and reform as it helped to advance an entire generation and community into the Industrial Age after slavery.
Penn Center’s mission is “to promote and preserve the history and culture of the Sea Islands.” After the school closed in 1948, Penn became the first African American site in South Carolina whose primary purpose was to safeguard the heritage of a Gullah/Geechee community by preserving districts and landmarks that epitomize important elements of its culture, history, and vernacular history; and to promote the use and conservation of such landmarks for the education, recreation and enrichment of the residents of the Sea Islands.
Later, in the 1960’s, Penn Center took up the mantle of social justice by ushering in the Civil Rights Movement and serving as the only location in South Carolina where interracial groups, such as Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Peace Corps, could have safe sanctuary in an era of mandated segregation.
In 1974, the Penn Center received recognition for nominating its own campus of seventeen historic structures and eight other sites on St. Helena Island as a National Historic Landmark District.
As the Penn Center commemorates its 150th Anniversary 2012-2014, it continues to endure both as a national monument promoting historic preservation, as well as a catalyst for economic sustainability throughout the Sea Islands. Its far-reaching impact on local, national and international communities has been the greatest legacy of the Penn Center’s history.