The Past is in Our Future
What are you looking forward to in 2017? And how often do you look back? By the time these words land here in print, much of what I’ll recount will be history. But history is, indeed, of considerable value, and critical to our future. For as the wise know, to embrace, treasure and understand the past, and to learn from and celebrate heroes who overcame unimaginable obstacles, is to truly prepare well for the future.
Reconstruction was birthed right here, in the Lowcountry. Many of our own native islanders are descendants of those courageous people who experienced it. Remarkably, they witnessed the day when slavery turned to freedom, when the right to openly govern themselves and be counted among the “all people” of the Declaration of Independence was boldly announced in the Emancipation Proclamation. But, even before this, they dwelled as no other community of freed slaves had before—in Mitchelville. In Mitchelville, they elected their own leaders and established a compulsory education act. In Mitchelville, families worked and worshipped and lived together freely.
And here’s where regionalism intersects with our distinct island identity and where our past meets our future. During 2016, Beaufort County’s Heritage Tourism Task Force and its Advisory Committee have catalogued every historical site within Beaufort County, using internationally recognized rating standards. They have developed five themes to tell engaging stories of our rich history, including Native American History, the Age of European Exploration, the Gullah Geechee, Antebellum and the Civil War and Reconstruction. On January 11, Dr. Andy Beall, chairman of the Heritage Tourism Advisory Committee and of the Santa Elena Foundation, together with the four Beaufort County mayors, will meet with representatives of the Visitor and Convention Bureaus for Hilton Head, Bluffton and Beaufort to forge forward-looking plans to attract residents and visitors to these storied sites. Improvements and upgrades to enhance visitors’ experiences will be recommended. Our heritage is truly becoming a unifying regional force, influencing our future.
Certainly, our Lowcountry’s unique history is taking hold and capturing attention. On December 15, United States Congressman James Clyburn and Jonathan Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, sponsored a public meeting at the Brick Baptist Church in St. Helena to gauge the Lowcountry’s level of support and readiness for creating a multi-site National Park Service Monument to Reconstruction in Beaufort County, South Carolina. The church was filled to capacity and overflowing with local officials, representatives of Beaufort County’s heritage organizations and members of the public, including descendants of Robert Smalls. The excitement was tactile. The time has come to move forward with efforts to nationally highlight our heritage. If it’s worth a trip to the president’s desk, it’s worthy of our attention.
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Happy New Year!