African American Heritage Sites Across the Lowcountry
Take a trip across the Lowcountry to visit these historically significant spots.
Today’s Green Book of South Carolina pays homage to the original Green Book by highlighting African American heritage sites across the state. The original Green Book was published in 1936. It played a critical role in protecting African American travelers by providing information on safe travel and welcoming establishments across the United States. This guide was instrumental in helping black motorists navigate the dangers of racial segregation. It included gas stations, restaurants and lodging that were safe for African American travelers.
Calvin Ramsey has revived the Green Book as a guide to historically significant sites. The South Carolina Lowcountry counties of Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper are very fortunate to have 36 sites memorialized in the Green Book of South Carolina. The following sites were shared from https://greenbookofsc.com/.
“Freedom Along the Combahee”: Combahee Ferry Raid
Hwy 17 at Combahee River, Beaufort County
A Union force consisting of nearly 300 members of the 3rd Rhode Island Artillery and the 2nd S.C. Volunteer Infantry, an African American unit, raided several plantations along the Confederate-held Combahee River on June 1-2, 1863. Col. James Montgomery led the expedition. The famed Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman also participated. More than 700 enslaved men, women, and children were freed. Some of the freedmen enlisted in the U.S. Army.
Berean Presbyterian Church / J.I. Washington Branch Library
602 Carteret St. Beaufort
Samuel J. Bampfield, an influential African American political figure during Reconstruction, was the founder of Berean Presbyterian Church. He served as postmaster, clerk of the Beaufort County court, and a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives. The congregation purchased this lot in 1892 and built a Gothic Revival style church. Solomon P. Hood, a future U.S. Minister to Liberia, was appointed as its first pastor.
The Beaufort Township Library purchased the building in 1931 and used it as a segregated library for African Americans. After the desegregation of the Township Library, the segregated branch closed. Later, the Neighborhood Youth Corps used the building as its headquarters. USC-Beaufort purchased the site in 1993 for use as an art studio.
Ribaut Rd. on the US Naval Hospital Grounds, Port Royal
The Camp Saxton Site is nationally significant as an intact portion of the camp occupied from early November 1862 to late January 1863 by the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment mustered into regular service in the United States Army during the Civil War, and as the site of the elaborate ceremonies held here on New Year’s Day 1863 which formally announced and celebrated the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in areas then “in rebellion” against the United States. This area is preserved as part of Reconstruction Era National Historical Park. However, it is located on the campus of the Beaufort Naval Hospital, an active duty military installation. As a result, this area is not currently open to public access.
701 Green St. Beaufort
Rev. James Graham built this house c. 1785. It became known as “the Mission” during Reconstruction, when Mrs. Rachel C. Mather of Boston occupied the house. She and other Baptist missionaries built Mather School in Beaufort to educate African Americans. The house is included in the Beaufort Historic District.
First African Baptist Church, Beaufort
601 New St. Beaufort
This church, founded in 1865, grew out of an antebellum praise house for black members of the Baptist Church of Beaufort. During the Civil War, after the Federal occupation of the town, it hosted a school for Freedmen. Rev. Arthur Waddell (1821-1895), organized the church with two fellow black ministers in 1867. Robert Smalls (1839-1915), Civil War hero, state legislator, and U.S. Congressman, was its most prominent member.
Grand Army of the Republic Hall
706 Newcastle St. Beaufort
Although Beaufort’s black military companies remained active after the Civil War, statewide the “Negro militia” rapidly declined during the 19th century. By 1903, the only units left were two companies in Beaufort. Many black Union veterans lived in the community, and after the war they formed the David Hunter Post #9 of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for veterans of the Union Army. Built in 1896, this meeting hall for the post is believed to be the only surviving building in South Carolina associated with the Grand Army of the Republic. It is included in the Beaufort Historic District.
Mather Museum and Interpretive Center
921 Ribaut Road, building #1, Beaufort
This interpretive center chronicles the history of Mather School in Beaufort, a boarding school for freed African American females. The institution was founded in 1868 by Boston schoolteacher Rachel Crane Mather, and is one of many post-Civil War developments that sought to educate recently emancipated African Americans. It first served elementary school-age girls. In 1910, high school grades were added, and in the 1950s, it became a junior college. Today, the museum is housed in the historic school’s former library, and the campus is the site of the Technical College of the Lowcountry. Moor Hall (pictured below,) one of the campus’ original historic buildings, housed classrooms, served as an administration building, a science laboratory, a library and a bookstore. The school of cosmetology training was housed in the basement.
Tabernacle Baptist Church
907 Craven St. Beaufort
The Tabernacle, a meeting house and lecture room, was built by Beaufort Baptist Church in the 1840s. In 1863, Tabernacle Baptist Church was organized by Solomon Peck of Boston with most of the 500 African American members of the congregation coming from Beaufort Baptist Church. The new congregation acquired this building for their worship services. The church was rebuilt after it was damaged by the hurricane of 1893. A bust of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls is on the church grounds. Tabernacle Baptist Church is included in the Beaufort Historic District.
Wesley Methodist Church, Beaufort
701 West St. Beaufort
This church, established in 1833, was the first Methodist church in Beaufort and was founded as a mission to slaves and free blacks here and on the neighboring sea islands. The congregation had both black and white members but many more black members in the antebellum era. This church, first built in the “meeting house” form common to the Methodist church, was dedicated in 1849. In 1861, after the Federal occupation of Beaufort and the sea islands, this church hosted a school for Freedmen. Its first black minister was appointed in 1873 during Reconstruction.
BEAUFORT SEA ISLANDS
Coffin Point Plantation
Seaside Rd. St. Helena Island
Coffin Point Plantation, a prosperous sea island cotton plantation, became a hub of activity when St. Helena Island was captured by Union troops in 1861. With the Union occupation of the island, the Coffin family fled, and 260 slaves were left behind. The United States government developed a plan to train and educate the newly released slaves to prove their effectiveness as free laborers. This effort became known as the Port Royal Experiment.
Dr. York Bailey House
US Hwy. 21 St. Helena Island
This house was built c. 1915 for Dr. York Bailey, St. Helena Island’s first African American doctor and its only physician for more than 50 years. Bailey ordered the parts for the house from a mail-order catalog and they were shipped to Beaufort, then brought across to the island by boat. The house is a good example of the vernacular American Foursquare house form. Bailey, born on St. Helena in 1881, graduated from Penn School and Hampton Institute and studied medicine at Howard University. He returned to the island in 1906 to practice medicine.
Eddings Point Praise House
On Eddings Point Drive, .1 miles north of junction with Secondary Road 74 St. Helena Island
The small wood frame building, c. 1900, is a rare example of a praise house. Praise houses were first established on plantations as places to meet and worship. Since there were few formal church buildings on St. Helena Island, most islanders could only walk or ride to the main church on Sunday mornings. For other meetings or services, they used praise houses, holding services on Sunday night and some weeknights. There were as many as 25 praise houses on St. Helena Island as recently as 1932, but only four remain today.
Emanuel Alston House
Sec. Rd. 161, .25 mi. N of jct. with US 21 Frogmore/St Helena Island
This house is an intact and significant example of a one-story hipped roof house, an early 20th century vernacular architectural form common to St. Helena Island. It was built c. 1915 by Tecumseh Alston, a carpenter, for his brother Emanuel. Emanuel “Mannie” Alston, born 1900, lived here until his death in 1985. He served for many years as an elder at Ebenezer Baptist Church and took a prominent part in the services there.
Knights of Wise Men Lodge Hall
14 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. St. Helena Island
The Knights of Wise Men was organized in 1870 to provide financial and farming assistance to the families of its members. The Knights purchased this property at the rear of “The Green” in 1889 for $8.00 and built a two-story wood frame building, which burned in 1940. The current concrete building was constructed shortly thereafter by local masons. It is similar in fashion to the earlier building. At its height in the 1920s, the Knights of Wise Men had some 350 members. The lodge is still used during times of celebration.
Mary Jenkins Community Praise House
355 Eddings Point Rd. St. Helena Island
Mary Jenkins Community Praise House is one of only four praise houses remaining on St. Helena Island. The small wood frame building, which was built c. 1900, represents a vernacular architectural form that has survived since the plantation era. Paris Capers, born in 1863, was one of the early elders. As a place of religious worship as well as community meetings, this praise house is an important reminder of St. Helena Island’s African American heritage.
Penn Center Historic District / Reconstruction Era National Monument
16 Penn Center Cir. E. St. Helena Island
Penn School was founded in 1862 by northern missionaries and abolitionists who came to South Carolina after the capture of the Sea Islands by Union troops. The site and its collection of historic buildings were venues for education, the preservation and interpretation of sea island culture, and a strategy meeting for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his March on Washington in 1963. In January 2017, Penn Center and other historic sites in Beaufort County were declared the nation’s first Reconstruction Era National Monument by President Barack Obama. In 2019, the monument was officially recognized as a National Park.
Robert Simmons House
On unpaved road .5 mile south of US HWY. 21 St. Helena Island
This house was built c. 1910 by Robert Simmons, an African American farmer. The house is a rare surviving example of a double pen house, a vernacular architectural form once common on St. Helena Island. Double pen houses had two rooms side-by-side, each usually measuring approximately 16×16 feet. The house has been enlarged, but the original core is still distinguishable.
Campbell AME Church
23 Boundary Street Bluffton
White Methodists built Campbell Chapel AME Church in 1853. Nine African American freedmen, who were likely once enslaved by members of the white congregation, purchased the 19th-century Greek Revival structure in 1874. Members of the new African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church congregation immediately altered the building and expanded the site as the church thrived. They likely installed the cast-iron bell that is currently visible in the cupola. The church retains historic fabric that is both original and reflective of the change in ownership. Campbell Chapel AME continues to provide a space where congregants can educate youth, worship freely, and participate in outreach ministries. This historic church was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on April 26, 2019.
Cherry Hill School
210 Dillon Rd. Hilton Head Island
This one-room frame school, built ca. 1937, was the first separate school building constructed for African American students on Hilton Head Island. It replaced an earlier Cherry Hill School, which had held its classes in the parsonage of St. James Baptist Church. After the black community on the island raised funds to buy this tract, Beaufort County agreed to build this school. This was an elementary school with one teacher, with an average of about 30 students. It served grades 1-5 when it opened in 1937, adding grade 6 the next school year.
First African Baptist Church, Hilton Head Island
70 Beach City Rd. Hilton Head Island
This church, founded in 1862, was originally the church in the town of Mitchelville, a Freedmen’s village established on Hilton Head by the United States Army. Rev. Abraham Murchinson, its first minister, was a former slave and the church had about 120 members when it was organized in August 1862. The church moved to the Chaplin community after the Civil War and was renamed Goodwill Baptist Church. It moved to this site by 1898 and was renamed Cross Roads Baptist Church before retaking its original name. The present church was built in 1966.
Former Home of William Simmons: Gullah Museum of Hilton Head
187 Gumtree Rd. Hilton Head Island
This house, built in 1930, is typical in materials and methods of construction of those built on the sea islands from the end of the Civil War to the mid-20th century. It was built on land bought by William Simmons (c. 1835-1922), who was born a slave and served in the 21st U.S. Colored Infantry during the Civil War. His granddaughter Georgianna Jones Bryan built this house in 1930 for her brother. It illustrates everyday life and the persistence of Gullah culture in an African American farm community. It was renovated in 2010-11 as the Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island.
160 Beach City Rd. Hilton Head Island
This Civil War fort, named for Gen. Joshua Blackwood Howell (1806-1864,) was built by the U.S. Army’s 32nd Colored Infantry and the 144th N.Y. Infantry to defend Hilton Head and the nearby freedmen’s village of Mitchelville from potential Confederate raids or expeditions. That village, just east of the fort, had been established by Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel in the fall of 1862 and was named for him after his death. The fort was an enclosed pentagonal earthwork with a 23-foot high parapet and emplacements for up to 27 guns. Though Fort Howell never saw action, it is significant for its design and its structural integrity.
Beach City Rd. Hilton Head Island
After Hilton Head’s fall to Union forces in 1861, this town was planned for the area’s former slaves and named for General Ormsby M. Mitchel. It was developed into neatly arranged streets and Ľ-acre lots. The town had elected officials, a church, laws, taxes and a school for children, and was home to about 1,500 residents in 1865. The village continued relatively intact until the 1870s and was abandoned by 1890.
Queen Chapel AME Church
114 Beach City Rd. Hilton Head
The AME denomination experienced rapid growth after the Civil War and Queen Chapel was among the early churches founded. In 1865, Charleston born AME Bishop D.A. Payne returned to S.C. and brought a group of missionaries to Hilton Head Island. They met with Rev. James Lynch, who had come to S.C. in 1863 to perform missionary work among the freedmen of Mitchelville.
St. James Baptist Church
209 Dillon Rd. Hilton Head Island
This church, founded in 1886 by former members of First African Baptist Church, is one of the oldest surviving institutions remaining from the town of Mitchelville, a Freedmen’s village established here by the United States Army in 1862. The present brick sanctuary, covered in stucco, is the third to serve this congregation. It was built in 1972 and renovated in 2005.
Daufuskie Island Historic District
18 Simmons Rd. Daufuskie Island – Accessible only by ferry.
The cotton trade spurred the growth of the slave population on Daufuskie Island from 1805-1842, and ruins of slave houses and archaeological sites remain from this period. The island was largely abandoned during the Civil War, but many former slaves returned during Reconstruction, reoccupying slave houses and building churches, schools, and meeting places. In the early 20th century, the population swelled to almost 1000, with oysters, logging, and trucking providing jobs. By the 1940s and 1950s, outside competition had caused many to leave the island and search for jobs elsewhere, leaving the population in 1980 at fewer than 75 people.
Edisto Island Baptist Church
1813 SC Highway 174 Edisto Island
The original core of Edisto Island Baptist Church was built in 1818 to serve the island’s white planters. Enslaved African Americans attended the church with their owners, and the original slave gallery still lines both sides of the sanctuary. After Edisto Island was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, most of the white plantation families left the island. In 1865 the trustees of the church turned it over to the black members. Edisto Island Baptist Church has operated as an African American church since that time.
7666 Point of Pines Rd. Edisto Island
Built by Henry Hutchinson around the time of his marriage to Rosa Swinton in 1885, the Hutchinson House is the oldest intact house identified with the African American community on Edisto Island after the Civil War. Hutchinson was born enslaved in 1860, and according to local tradition, he built and operated the first cotton gin owned by an African American on the island from about 1900-1920. Hutchinson lived here until his death in 1940.
29 Seaside School
1097 SC Hwy. 174 Edisto Island
This Seaside School, which was built c. 1931 as its second building, is reported to be the oldest African American school remaining on Edisto Island. From 1931 until the construction of a consolidated school in 1954, black residents of Edisto Island received their primary education in this building, a one-story, two-room rectangular frame. In 1930, the Edisto Island school district had planned to merge Seaside with Central African American school, but the community, affected by the Great Depression, could not raise enough money for the lot and school supplies. This smaller structure was built instead.
Episcopal Church of the Atonement
207 Chaplin St. Walterboro
This African American congregation was formed in 1892 as a mission of St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, a white congregation. The rector of St. Jude’s supplied services for the Church of the Atonement. This distinctive Gothic Revival church was built in 1896. The wood frame building features a steep gable roof. A tower on the front, which contains the Gothic-arched entrance, is decorated with fish-scale shingles and topped with an open belfry. The Church of the Atonement is included in the Walterboro Historic District.
St. James the Greater Catholic Mission
3087 Ritter Rd. Walterboro vicinity
St. James the Greater Catholic Mission is an extremely rare example of a rural, southern, black Roman Catholic parish in continuous existence from its antebellum origins to today. The site includes a sanctuary, a school, and a cemetery. The sanctuary, built around 1935 in the late Gothic Revival style and entirely clad in wooden shingles, is on the same site as two previous churches built in 1833 and 1894. The schoolhouse, constructed in 1901, is rare example of a turn-of-the-twentieth-century I-house built specifically as a school for African Americans. It provided private education for local students, regardless of religious affiliation, until 1960.
St. Peter’s AME Church
302 Fishburne St. Walterboro
St. Peter’s African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in 1867 under the leadership of Rev. James Nesbitt. This building, a Gothic Revival wood frame structure, was constructed around 1870. It features Gothic windows and a tower with an open belfry. It is part of the Walterboro Historic District.
Training the Tuskegee Airmen
Tuskegee Airmen Dr. Walterboro Airport
During World War II, the first African Americans in the U.S. Army Air Corps graduated from the Tuskegee Army Flying School in Alabama. From May 1944 to October 1945, some of them took further combat training here, at Walterboro Army Airfield. Several of the earliest “Tuskegee Airmen,” who had already won fame in missions in Europe and North Africa, were assigned as combat flight instructors. Trainees here flew the P-39, P-47, and P-40 fighter planes and the B-25 bomber. Officers’ quarters and enlisted men’s barracks stood just east and just west of this spot, respectively.
Hampton Colored School
Holly St., between Lightsey St. & Hoover St. Hampton
This two-room school was built under the leadership of Ervin Johnson, a local African American carpenter in 1929. It served students in grades one through eight. At first funds were so scarce it was only open from October to March. Eventually however, donations from the black community allowed it to operate for a full school year. Later, high school courses were offered. This remained the only black school in town until the Hampton Colored High School was built in 1947. Then it was converted into the lunchroom for the high school. Marker erected by Hampton County Historical Society, 1989.
Huspah Baptist Church and School
729 Magnolia St. W. Hampton
Organized c. 1873, the congregation first met in the homes of church members before erecting a permanent sanctuary. It also began operating a school for African American students around 1890. The first school burned in 1895 (arson was suspected, but never proven). It re-opened the following year. Elizabeth Evelyn Wright and Jessie Dorsey were the first teachers at the new school. Wright would go on to found Voorhees College in 1897. The school at Huspah remained in service until the County built a new school for African American students in 1927. Marker sponsored by Huspah Baptist Church, 2015.
St. Matthew Baptist Church
1454 Tillman Rd. Tillman
This church was founded in 1870 with Rev. Plenty Pinckney as its first minister and worshipped in a “bush tent” nearby until a log church was built a few years later. A new frame church was built on this site in the 1890s during the pastorate of Rev. C.L. Lawton. The present sanctuary was built in 1960 during the tenure of Rev. R.M. Youmans, who served here for more than 35 years. Marker erected by the Congregation, 2002.