Penn Center's Mission:
To promote and preserve the
history and culture of the Sea Islands.
For more than 150 years, Penn Center National Historic Landmark District, located on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, 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 have continued to survive and represent the most tangible living example of one of the outcomes of the Port Royal Experiment, a plan to tutor the freedmen out of slavery and into freedom.
Founded in 1862, Penn School was one of the first academic schools in the South established by Northern missionaries, to provide a formal education for formerly enslaved West Africans. 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.
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., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Peace Corps could have safe sanctuary in an era of mandated segregation.
Penn Center continues to thrive 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