This is a very special year for Penn Center, Beaufort, Port Royal, and the entire region, in that President Obama established the Reconstruction Era National Monument to encompass significant sites in these locations as key to the Nation’s reconstruction story. This year, Penn Center’s two inductees into the 1862 Circle represent the unique character and history of this region, and the importance of Penn Center to our country.
Penn Center honors Andrew Young, Jr., civil rights leader, Congressman, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and Joseph “Crip” Legree, extraordinary cast net maker and living legacy for preservation of sea island life and Gullah culture. These two men brought the basics of human survival, sustenance and the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” to their careers. The capacity to support one’s family by growing from the earth or catching from the sea is as basic to the success of generations of sea islanders as the struggles that secured civil rights for a people too long denied them.
The cultivation and preservation of those traits and skills that allowed a people to survive are represented by Joseph Legree, who through his lifetime of 93 years has perfected the art and processes of making cast nets, and passed the knowledge of this tradition to next generations. On many occasions, Mr. Legree has partnered with Penn Center demonstrating how to make cast nets during Heritage Days celebrations and in other programs. So iconic has he become that you may find photographs, paintings, and sculptures of him in galleries from Beaufort to Hilton Head to Savannah. He was featured in a 2012 CNN report on African traditions brought to the United States, and, in 2009, he received the South Carolina Folk Heritage Award.
The ongoing struggle for civil rights, still a focus of Penn Center, is represented by the induction into the 1862 Circle of the Honorable Andrew Young, Jr. At its inception, Penn School shared basic education and information about citizenship as investments for the future of a people. One hundred years later in the 1960s, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Andrew Young, convened their meetings at Penn Center to help secure the objectives of the civil rights movement. Subsequently, Andrew Young’s illustrious career included service as a U.S. Congressman and as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. An author of two books, A Way Out of No Way (1994) and An Easy Burden; The Civil Right Movement and the Transformation of America (1996), Andrew Young ‘s accolades include the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Spingarn Medal.
The virtues and values of the past, a constant commodity at Penn Center, are made real, relevant, tangible, and edible by one 1862 Circle inductee, Joseph Legree. The other inductee, Andrew Young, Jr. represents the very foundation of the successful civil rights movement, built in part on the grounds of Penn School, 100 years after its founding. How appropriate the national spotlight has turned on the reconstruction era story of Penn School, just in time to allow these two unique talents to be featured at this year’s 1862 Circle Gala, to be held at the Sonesta Resort, on Hilton Head, April 22, 2017 at 6:00 PM.