Mitchelville: A fight to preserve ‘da spirit of freedom’
A forgotten history is emerging from the shade of oak trees on a sleepy corner of Hilton Head Island
- Local scholars, historians and native islanders have banded together to preserve a little-known site where thousands of slaves witnessed the “dawn of freedom.”Risking their lives in fleeing to Hilton Head, thousands led an experiment in self-governance that would usher new rights for the formerly enslaved and forever change the fabric of American society.Liberated from bondage by federal troops, “contraband” slaves left behind Union lines were allowed to govern and educate themselves before being granted citizenship. Founded in 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation, a village sprung off present day Beach City Road, where the contraband elected their own officials, passed their own laws — including the first compulsory education law in the state — farmed for wages and bought land.
- HOW THE PROJECT DEVELOPED
The Town of Hilton Head Island agreed in fall 2010 to lease 15 acres at Fish Haul Creek Park to develop the Mitchelville Preservation Project, contingent on a plan showing the preservation group's financial ability to build and maintain it.
- The town and Beaufort County would later jointly purchase additional land surrounding the site for the same purpose. Both also awarded the preservation thousands in accommodations-tax money to help defray startup costs. Though, there was a hiccup with Hilton Head Town Council this year.
- The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry jumped on board as well to help the preservation group facilitate fundraising needed to move ahead with a rough, multi-million dollar outline for developing the park. Word of the group's efforts eventually spread to the 2012 Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce Leadership program, who chose to develop informational kiosks at the site as its class project.
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