Just Passing Through…

It’s said that the past is everything that’s happened prior to the present, while history is just what’s been recorded of it. Think about something from your past that you’ve recounted over time. Has “history” edited it? When your story is told, will every detail be revealed? Perhaps, but probably not. The same might be said of our island’s history. However, the opportunities to fully describe the depth, complexity, uniqueness and intrigue of Hilton Head Island are inspiring efforts to make our history a fuller representation of our past.

First, let’s give credit where it’s due – to the great work of organizations like the Coastal Discovery Museum, the Heritage Library, the Gullah Museum and Gullah Heritage Trail Tours. They, together with many others, have chronicled and heralded our island history dating back to the Native Americans who once dwelled here. Art, music, festivals and events have intertwined to showcase island heritage and history.

Next, let’s review a historical timeline of the recent efforts to bring more of the past to life for the benefit of our future.

In the summer of 2015, Beaufort County mayors, together with the chairman of the County Council, County Councilman Stuart Rodman, Dr. Emory Campbell and Carlton Dallas first met to put a stake in the ground, committing to tell the rich story of Beaufort County’s past – together. We wanted to recognize and celebrate all regional evidence of it, from the smallest site to the most sizable organization. That group was named the Heritage Tourism Task Force, and we sought to identify and classify our historical assets as a starting point to maximizing their exposure and impact.

In late 2016, Hilton Head Island’s Town Council agreed to fund $110,000 for a permanent executive director of the Mitchelville Preservation Project (MPP), launching a nationwide search. Ahmad Ward, previously the assistant executive director of the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, now serves as executive director of the MPP. According to many experts, Mitchelville is one of the most unique and significant pieces of African-American history in the United States.

In January, 2017, the federal government recognized the Lowcountry’s significance to American history by designating four Beaufort County sites as a monument to the Reconstruction Era. Also in 2017, Fort Mitchel and Zion Chapel of Ease were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

In April, 2017, the town leased the property known as Fish Haul Creek Park to MPP. This marked the beginning of an effort to establish a master plan to facilitate exhibits and programming. The park was officially renamed “Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park.”

Meanwhile, Beaufort County committed $250,000 toward the master plan for Mitchelville and agreed to set aside $575,000 in matching funds for future improvements. Archeologists have now visited the site and identified the location of the Praise House, which was the center of daily life in this first self-governed settlement for freedmen in the United States. Discover more about Mitchelville by attending the annual Juneteenth Celebration on June 15 and 16 at Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park. Visit exploremitchelville.org for details.

Back on the regional level, in January the Heritage Tourism Task Force became the Beaufort County Heritage Tourism Corporation, a 501(c)(3) organization. Our mission is to bring our heritage to life by creating a regional network of engaging Heritage Tourism educational programs and experiences in the Lowcountry.

This is just history. The past encompasses much more. Together, these efforts are building the complete narrative of our heritage. Become a part of it before the opportunity passes by!

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