Penn Center celebrates 150 years

Published: Mar. 30, 2012 at 12:38 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 10, 2012 at 4:21 PM EDT
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ST. HELENA ISLAND, SC (WTOC) - Penn Center is rich in history and culture, dating back 150 years.

"The school basically was started as a test. It was called the Port Royal Experiment and basically it was trying to see if the newly freed slaves could be taught to be self sufficient and Penn School became a remnant of that experiment," said Walter Mack, Penn Center Interim Executive Director.

Robert Middleton volunteers in the Museum at Penn Center now but attended Penn years ago.

"I came to Penn and went to school up until the 11th grade and then I had to go out to work but I grew up here. We had a farm and a dairy," said Middleton.

Although the last class graduated Penn School in 1953, their mission continued.

"Penn has always had a mission of preserving and promoting the Sea Island history and culture in various ways," said Mack. "Throughout history, Penn Center has transferred it's ideas on education to the civil rights movement."

During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made several stops at Penn Center.

"This was a safe haven," said Mack. "This was one of the only places in the South where people of different racial backgrounds could meet without there being any issues."

Now, what once was a workshop is Penn Center's Museum, where Middleton and others continue to share the history.

"This is where the history started and we're trying to hold on to that," said Middleton.

Penn Center continues to preserve the Gullah culture for generations to come.

In celebration of their 150th anniversary, Penn Center is holding a gala on April 28 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Hilton Head Island. Tickets are $100.

For more information, call 843.838.2432 or email

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