Very Strong Letter for Reconstruction Era Monument

20 Dec Very Strong Letter for Reconstruction Era Monument

To date the ad hoc group working to advocate a Reconstruction Era Monument in Beaufort County have received huge support from more than 160 noted scholars, local and state governing bodies, friends of national parks and people like you and me. As we get closer to a decision,I thought I would share one of the stronger and more substantive letters.


Honorable Sally Jewell

Secretary of the Interior

U.S. Department of the Interior

1849 C Street NW

Washington DC 20240

Dear Secretary Jewell:

We write to ask that you recommend to the White House the designation of a National Monument to Reconstruction in the Beaufort, South Carolina area. As historians of the 19th-century United States working in universities across the country, we believe that this is the right time and place to incorporate the story of emancipation and Reconstruction into the National Park Service. The crucial story of slavery’s destruction, the emancipation of 4 million slaves, and the Reconstruction of the United States has never been adequately memorialized by the National Park Service.

There are many reasons why Reconstruction should be commemorated in the Beaufort area in particular. The National Historic Landmark Theme Study on Reconstruction, written for the NPS by Kate Masur and Gregory P. Downs, judged that Beaufort “captures—perhaps better than any single location in the United States—the political, economic, organizational, and religious transformations of Reconstruction.” Similarly at an NPS roundtable in June 2014, many of us urged the Park Service to study Reconstruction generally and the story in Beaufort in particular. And in a handbook on Reconstruction published by the National Park Service in 2015, many of us wrote about the centrality of Reconstruction to the nation’s history and of Beaufort to the story of Reconstruction.

Beaufort and the surrounding area played a crucial role in the nation’s history during the Reconstruction era. In many ways, Reconstruction began there in the interaction between enslaved people, arriving U.S. soldiers, Treasury agents, and northern missionaries, all seeking to define the transition to freedom. In that region, many of the first black soldiers enlisted, many of the first black schools were founded, many of the first efforts to distribute land to former slaves took place, and many of the era’s most-significant black Republican politicians came to prominence. Black political influence and black landownership endured there long after setbacks in other regions. In short, events and people from the Beaufort area reflect the most important issues of the era – land, labor, education, politics, and the crucial questions posed by the destruction of slavery.

In the Beaufort region, including the town of Port Royal and Saint Helena Island, many existing historic sites demonstrate the transformative effect of emancipation and Reconstruction. At the Penn Center Historic District on Saint Helena Island, the site of the former Penn School, freedpeople began attending classes in early 1862, before the Emancipation Proclamation. The Brick Baptist Church, constructed by slaves for planters, became a center of African-American religious

November 15, 2021

and community life. In Beaufort, the Robert Smalls House was the home of a slave who piloted a Confederate ship to U.S. lines, served in two constitutional conventions, and for five terms in the U.S. Congress. At Camp Saxton, now the location of the U.S. Naval Hospital in Port Royal, ex- slaves gathered to hear one of the first readings of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, and ex-slave Prince Rivers was among the speakers.

We understand that leaders of the community in the Beaufort region not only endorse this proposal but have crafted operating agreements that grant authority to the National Park Service to administer a Reconstruction National Monument if the President were to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate one. Additionally Congressmen Mark Sanford and James Clyburn co- sponsored a resolution to establish a National Monument to Reconstruction in the area.

In our nation’s history, no era has been as little understood or as inadequately represented as Reconstruction. As the Civil War ended, Americans had the chance to remake their democracy and to expand their collective ideas about freedom and citizenship. Reconstruction was an era of immense creativity and open-endedness, one in which the fundamental premises of American society and government were up for grabs. It was a period of signal importance in African American history and — particularly in light of the addition of three Constitutional amendments, the birth of public education in the South, and the dramatic expansion of the electorate – for the nation as a whole.

This is an historic opportunity to broaden our nation’s understanding of a crucial period and to render a fuller, more accurate portrayal of our nation’s past. We appreciate your consideration and stand ready to assist in any way possible.

Sincerely yours,

Gregory Downs
Associate Professor of History University of California, Davis

David W. Blight
Class of 1954 Professor of American History Yale University

Deirdre Cooper-Owens Assistant Professor of History Queens College, New York

Edda L. Fields-Black Associate Professor of History Carnegie Mellon University

Elaine Frantz
Associate Professor of History Duquesne University

Kate Masur
Associate Professor of History Northwestern University

Eric Foner
DeWitt Clinton Professor of History Columbia University

Thavolia Glymph
Associate Professor of History & African and African American Studies
Duke University

James Grossman
Associate Faculty in History University of Chicago

Steven Hahn Professor of History New York University

Thomas C. Holt
James Westfall Thompson Professor of American & African American History and the College
University of Chicago

Stephen Kantrowitz
Professor of History
University of Wisconsin, Madison

Ari Kelman
Chancellor’s Leadership Professor of History University of California, Davis

Lawrence Powell Professor Emeritus Tulane University

Heather Cox Richardson Professor of History Boston College

Brooks D. Simpson
ASU Foundation Professor of History Arizona State University

Heather Andrea Williams Presidential Professor & Professor of Africana Studies
University of Pennsylvania