Joyce Wright of the Mitchelville Preservation Project was presented with a copy of William Still’s The Underground Railroad by Lisa S. Garrison of the Willits Book Trust of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting at the Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Annual Conference held in Hilton Head South Carolina, on June 15, 2016.
Before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, free Black people of Mitchelville on Hilton Head Island began creating a new self-governed culture as part of the Port Royal Experiment, setting a pattern for generations to follow. These newly freed citizens built homes on well-organized streets, participated in government by electing their own officials, established an economy, wrote laws, and organized mandatory education for their children. Quakers were among the abolitionists, philanthropists and missionaries (“Gideonites”) that visited Mitchelville to support the development of the emerging community. Even Harriet Tubman traveled to Hilton Head Island to learn from the example of Mitchelville, enabling her to share this story of Black agency and self- determination with others. By 1865, there were 1,500 free people of color living in Mitchelville. Many of their descendents remain on Hilton Head Island and in the surrounding region today.
Mitchelville has long been considered a shining star within the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor that now stretches from Wilmington, North Carolina to St. Augustine, Florida, forming the roots of African American contributions to the heritage of freedom in this country and retaining elements of African culture that exist nowhere else in the USA in quite this way. Today Joyce Wright, Charles Bogguess (Secretary of the Mitchelville Preservation Project and the recipient of the 2016 Robert G. Stanton Award), are joined by a vibrant group of volunteers who work to preserve and raise public awareness about this historically significant site in the Georgia Sea Islands. Mitchelville Preservation Project tells the story of the sacrifice, resilience and perseverance of the free men and women who established the first self-governed town of freed slaves in America.