Tuesday 19 February 2019
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PENN CENTER 31st Annual Heritage Days Celebration

Eyes Still on the Prize: Continuing a Legacy of Change

Penn Center is recognized as one of the nation’s most significant historic and cultural institutions.  The Penn School was founded in 1862 by two Northern Missionaries, Laura Towne and Ellen Murray, who were originally supported by the Freedman’s Society in Philadelphia.  Penn was one of the first academic schools for African Americans newly freed from slavery.
Today, the mission of Penn Center is to promote and preserve the history and culture of the Sea Islands and to play a major role as a cultural resource center assisting in education and self-reliance throughout southern coastal communities.  Penn Center is vitally important to community members, educators and researchers interested in the study of slavery, Reconstruction and civil rights.  Penn Center was important as the strategic planning location for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and leaders of the Civil Rights Movement.
Designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1974, Penn Center is a repository of historical and cultural heritage of African American Sea Island experience.  The site is home to the York W. Bailey Museum and variety of charming historic cottages that offer comfortable accommodations against a backdrop of natural beauty.
Every year, Penn Center celebrates the history and culture of the Sea Islands and the various Africanisms that still exist with the Heritage Days Celebration.  Since its inception in 1981, Heritage Days Celebration has grown from a single day of events and food to three days of culturally fun-filled events.
The yearly celebration was initially called “Harvest Day.”  Heritage Days continues to revel in rich legacy that has grown from these celebratory activities and the people that have kept them going for generations.
The 31st Annual Heritage Days Celebration theme “Eyes Still on the Prize: Continuing a Legacy of Change” honors our 150th Anniversary Commemoration of Penn Center Community Service, The Civil Rights Movement & Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The three-day celebration kicks-off with the Opening Ceremony & Founder’s Day Memorial Service at 3 pm Thursday, November 7th with performances and presentations by the Beaufort High School Chorus and Band, 54th Massachusetts Co. A, Vol. Regiment Re-enactors—who will be encamped on the grounds during the 3-day event, a Libation Ceremony that honors the Gullah Geechee African ancestors, St. Helena Elementary and Lady’s Island Middle School students presenting the Flag of the Gullah Nations, a Tribute to the Founders of Penn School and guest speaker—Corey Murphy, Principal of Beaufort High School.
Thursday will also include: Road of Remembrance—an annual youth theatrical play, a Taste of the Sea Islands featuring Gullah cuisine from local and regional celebrated chefs and cooks, an Old Fashioned Prayer Service and the York W. Bailey Museum presents The Art of Cassandra M. Gillens— a meet the artist wine and cheese reception 8-10 pm.  Cassandra Gillens, the featured artist for Heritage Days will have a collection of her work on exhibit at the museum and, on Friday, November 8th, Penn Center presents Youth Day 9 am- 2 pm, center stage entertainment 2-4 pm, and a Heritage Symposium: The Civil Rights Movement & Social Change.  3-6pm in Darrah Hall on the historic grounds of Penn.  The symposium will commemorate the 150th Anniversary of Penn Center and the Civil Rights Movement. Vital dialogue will take place between activists, educators, authors and former students who integrated schools regarding the movement and social change.  At this symposium, expect equal parts lecture and personal accounts, multimedia presentations and Freedom Songs, a live music presentation by Natalie Daise connecting traditional spirituals sung during the Slavery Era to march and protest songs of the Civil Rights Movement.
Friday night promises to be an evening to remember with the Fish Fry, Oyster Roast and a Blues Concert featuring the legendary Roy C & Band, Jessie Sumter paying tribute to the God Father of Soul, and DJ Sweet Music Man.  The Blues event will take place on center stage at Penn Center 6-Midnight.
The Heritage Days Parade will kick things off on Saturday morning beginning at 9 am. Just a reminder to all parade attendees, to be in place by 8:30 am due to road closings on Hwy 21 and MLK, Jr. Drive. Right after the parade enjoy craft and food as well as local farmer vendors on the Penn Center grounds. New to Heritage this year will be Artists & Authors Row featuring the creativity of local and regional visual artists, craft makers and authors.  Saturday’s center stage entertainment 12 noon- 5:30 pm promises to be new and exciting with this year’s Master of Ceremonies, Ron Daise of the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor and Penn Center’s 1862 Circle Member.  Ron Daise, born and breed on St. Helena Island is a cultural preservationist formally of the Nick, Jr. television show Gullah Gullah Island.  Also new to this year’s Heritage schedule of events is the Gospel Praise Celebration—concert featuring local and  regional gospel groups,  “Family Slide Dancers Workshop & Dance Social”—introducing the culture of Urban Line Dancing to the Lowcountry, and many other cultural and historic events.
On Sunday, join the Gullah family and fellowship at the St. Helena Island local churches.
Penn Center and St. Helena Island has welcomed guests, family and friends every year back to celebrate all things Gullah Geechee as a Homecoming to all.  This celebration is filled with must see events.  Advance tickets are available now. For more information on Heritage Days Celebration contact Penn Center at or 843.838.2432 and visit



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