1862

First school for freed slaves established on St. Helena Island, South Carolina; classes held at The Brick Church; 80 pupils enrolled.

1864

School buys land from Hasting Gantt, a freedman.

1865

New three-room building becomes first school in South created for the instruction of former slaves; officially named Penn School. (Thirteenth Amendment added to the U.S. Constitution; slavery legally abolished.)

1865-1877

School supported by private charity comprised of primarily Quaker abolitionists in Philadelphia.

1867

African Americans are the majority of registered voters in South Carolina; won election as lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer; controlled majority of seats in lower house. Penn Center received tax money for books and school operations.

1877

Beaufort County school board (appointed, not elected) forbade St. Helena residents to raise money or levy school tax for local schools. Penn School solely dependent on private donations.

1877-1901

Penn School financially burdened.

1901-1917

Hampton Institute in Virginia asked to sponsor Penn School; Center’s new leadership modeled education on Hampton Tuskegee model.

1927

Completion of bridge from town of Beaufort to Lady’s Island, gave St. Helena access to the mainland.

1931

Great Depression created further financial hardship; Enrollment at Penn school drops from 600 to 262.

1948

Penn School ceased to function as a school; changed to community agency; renamed Penn Community Services, Inc.

1950

Penn School becomes Penn Center: trained midwives, opened first daycare center for African Americans, started Teen Canteen for local teenagers, developed community health care clinic. Hired first African American as professional manager at Penn Center—Thomas Barnwell.

1960s

Sponsored and hosted interracial conferences on Civil Rights; Penn Center is a retreat site for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and human rights activists.

1970s

Penn Center used for church and organizational retreats; training center for Peace Corps' overseas agricultural workers, educational site for study of black history and culture.

1980s

Penn Center established Land Use and Environmental Education (LUEE) Program to promote sustainability and economic development; creation of Penn School for Preservation.

1988

Sierra Leone’s President Joseph Momoh visits Penn Center. The following year a group from the Gullah Community travelled to Sierra Leone for a reunion with ancestral families.

1990

Penn Center placed on “most endangered historic places” list by National Trust for Historic Preservation; mission focused on promoting and preserving Gullah cultural assets.

2006

Congress created The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor along the coastal areas from Florida to North Carolina.

2015

Dr. Rodell Lawrence named Executive Director.

 

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