June a great time to explore local history


May and June are marked by graduations and congratulations! Most of us understand that graduation doesn't mean the end of education.

And when it comes to Hilton Head Island and the entire region of Beaufort County, I would love for all of us to become life-long history majors. The time is right, and the month of June affords us several opportunities to do just that.

Please add these events to your June "to do" list:

The Heritage Library (heritagelib.org) is fond of educating our "tour"-ists - even if they've traveled only from across the street. Enjoy Historic Bike Tours, the Zion Living History Tour or a Tour of Historic Fort Mitchel.

There's also a special event on June 9, a Visual History of African-American Religion, featuring Eric Williams, the Curator of Religion at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The Coastal Discovery Museum's June offerings (coastaldiscovery.org) could fill a year on any calendar. Here are just a few events that are sure to give you a better appreciation of the depth and complexity of our heritage: A Sense of Place, the special ongoing photographic exhibit; Hands on History - Indigo Discovery; the Forts of Port Royal; Explore Honey Horn; the Civil War Era; and Daufuskie Island Artisans and History Tour.

Mid-June is marked by the annual Juneteenth Celebration at the newly re-named Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park (exploremitchelville.org). Set aside June 15 and 16 to discover why the celebration of Freedom Day is vital to our understanding of island history.

Not just during June, but year-round we're working to do more. Consider this short list of recent successes to promote our past:

After nearly three years of work as the Heritage Tourism Task Force, the Heritage Tourism Corporation, a 501(c)(3) organization, was officially established, with a mission to bring our heritage to life by creating a regional network of Heritage Tourism experiences in the Lowcountry.

Next, we're estimating the economic impact of such an endeavor using the 2018 Lowcountry Visitor Survey produced by the Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute.

In 2016, Hilton Head Island's Town Council agreed to fund $110,000 for a permanent executive director for the Mitchelville Preservation Project (MPP). A nationwide search brought Ahmad Ward, previously the assistant executive director for the Birmingham Civil Rights Museum, to serve in this capacity.

In April 2017, the Town leased the property known as Fish Haul Creek Park to MPP and the park was officially renamed "Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park."

Beaufort County committed $250,000 toward its master plan, and agreed to set aside $575,000 in matching funds for future improvements. Archeologists have already visited the site and identified the location of the Praise House, which was the center of daily life in this first self-governed settlement for freedmen in the United States.

On the county level, we've gained national attention as four sites were designated by the National Parks Service as a Reconstruction Era National Monument (nps.gov/reer).

Here on Hilton Head Island, Ft. Mitchel and the Zion Chapel of Ease cemetery and mausoleum were added to the National Register of Historic Places during 2017.

The conclusion? We never really graduate - we all have a lot to learn. And now we all have more opportunities to do so.

David Bennett is the mayor of the Town of Hilton Head Island. DavidB@hiltonhead islandsc.gov. Visit MayorDavidBennett.com to sign up for the mayor's newsletter.

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