President Barak Obama declared five new United States National Monuments by using the Antiquities Act to “preserve critical chapters of our country’s history” and to “ensure that our national parks, monuments and public lands are fully reflective of our nation’s diverse history and culture.” One of these new national monuments is the multi-site “Reconstruction National Monument” in Beaufort County, SC. It will include the Brick Baptist Church and Darrah Hall which are both in the Penn Center National Landmark Historic District on St. Helena Island, SC as well as the site of the Emancipation Oak at Camp Saxton in Port Royal. All of these sites have major significance to the spiritual and land rights story of the Gullah/Geechee Nation as well as to the on-going battle for freedom and full recognition of the contributions of people of African descent to America.
When the journey began a decade and a half ago in regard to posing the idea of having a Reconstruction study conducted by the US National Park Service, there was major opposition by the descendants of the Confederacy. However, when Congressman James Clyburn and Director Jonathan Jarvis hosted a public meeting on historic St. Helena Island, SC during December 2016, every person that spoke was in favor of the “Reconstruction National Monument.” Every face from which a voice emitted reflected the full spectrum of “diversity” since there was a wide array of Gullah/Geechee and non-Gullah/Geechee, anglo and people of color, male and female, and no doubt folks from a varying array of political parties and positions in the church. I am sure that Brick Church had not seen such a mixture of people fill this building to the rafters since the Civil War era!
As I sat there and witnessed and documented this historic moment, I thought about how the discussion previously was ready to ignite just what a documentary that I consulted for used as a sub-heading-the second civil war! Now, even if some of the parties in the room were there looking at this controversial era as another way to bring in tourism dollars versus an opportunity to finally tell the entire story, it was a blessing that there will now be a platform from which this story will be revisited. This time it will include what Gullah/Geechees did during that era and how we still dey ya pun de land wha bin paat ob disya!
Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation consulted for “Reconstruction: The Second Civil War” and sang for the score. She is one of the re-enactors in several scenes as depicted here in the Tunis Campbell settlement scene shot on the Georgia coast of the Gullah/Geechee Nation (www.gullahgeecheenation.com).
After having served on the National Park Service Relevancy Committee, it feels good to know that our discussions about how the NPS would go forth after its 100th anniversary was not in vain. President Obama and all those that supported this effort have insured that the national monuments reflected in the system will be diverse and relevant to people from all walks of life including those of a rural Sea Island.
As I walked out of the Brick Baptist Church down the dirt road on my beloved St. Helena Island, as I have done countless times in my life, I felt like I was walking with many of those that we still honor such as Harriet Tubman, Charlotte Forten, Suzie King Taylor, Martin Delaney, and the 1st South Carolina Volunteers that left their tracks in the Sea Island soil of Beaufort County, SC. They seemed to be back standing on the island once again ready to shout like folks did at the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. I was shouting with them because I have been blessed to work with people that love history with all its pains and controversy, trials, and triumphs. We have stood together to battle to insure that the entire story was told and our cries were heard inside the White House! As a result, we have definitely had a triumph with the declaration of the “Reconstruction National Monument” in Beaufort County, SC! Tenki Tenki frum allawe President Barak Obama!
Queen Quet Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and US Congressman James Clyburn at Darrah Hall of Penn Center which will now be a part of the “Reconstruction National Monument.”
Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis at Brick Baptist Church on historic St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Brick Baptist Church is one of the sites of the “Reconstruction National Monument.”