Penn Center becomes national monument days before celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Rooted in history, nestled in the heart of marshlands, and centrally located between beautiful beaches and a thriving coastal town sits Penn Center, formally known as Penn School.

Founded in 1862 by Laura Towne and Ellen Murray, Penn School was established as one of the first schools for freed African-American slaves living on St. Helena Island and the surrounding Sea Islands. Even though Penn was rooted within the Gullah/Geechee community it also served as a retreat for prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr.

For King, St. Helena Island offered an escape from the outside world. To keep this a private retreat, King would often not announce his presence on the island.

Gantt Cottage where Martin Luther King Jr. would stay will retreating to the Penn Center Campus. © Michael Tolbert
 Martin Luther King Jr. would stay in Gantt Cottage while retreating to the Penn Center Campus.
© Michael Tolbert

Penn Center offered a sanctuary for King; however, he would often meet with his staff on the campus grounds to strategize during the Civil Rights Movement.

On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis Tennessee. In 1971, cities across America established annual holidays in order to honor King; however, on November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor the life of the Civil Rights Leader.

Penn Center remains active in the Gullah/Geechee community. In 1974, Penn Center was added to the National Historic Landmark District. January 12th, also brought phenomenal news to the Penn Center, as President Barack Obama announced the creation of a national monument on Penn Center’s campus, including the Brick Church and Darrah Hall.

Looking at Penn Center through the mossy trees.
 To see complete album of our trip to Penn Center on St. Helena Island please click on photo above.

To see the complete album of our trip to Penn Center on St. Helena Island please click here.

To find out more information concerning Penn Center please visit their official website: