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History of Penn Center at Six and Twenty


Members of the Six and Twenty Club gathered at the home of Mrs. Mary Driscoll for one of the few in-home meetings since the onset of the pandemic. Mrs. Cindy Petrich called the meeting to order with Mrs. Patti Cook recording the minutes.

Program leader, Mrs. Pat King, circulated the book “Swift Currents” by David Bruce Grim It is historical fiction set during the Civil War and the period immediately thereafter. It tells the story of Callie and her two brothers, living in bondage at Oakheart Plantation, struggling in outrage with a cruel master. Life changes suddenly with the advent of the Civil War and the arrival of Federal troops and the departure of the Southern landowners. The enslaved people on the plantations are suddenly “freed” and begin to build lives of their own.

The author, David Bruce Grim, has been affiliated with the Penn Center, located on St. Helena Island, S.C. for over 10 years.

King then continued with a history of the Penn School, founded in 1862 by Quaker and Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania. It was the first school founded in the Southern United States specifically for the education of African-Americans. The Penn Center has evolved over the years, meeting the needs of its Low-Country Community.

Initially it taught the formerly enslaved people basic skills for independent living – reading, writing and trades. In the early 1900’s, the Penn School began to develop curriculum in the agricultural sciences and trade under the sponsorship of what is now Hampton University. They established a credit co-operative for farmers; worked with SC State College in teacher-training programs; and carried out plans for improving the lives of African-American residents, including better homes, modern child care, new cash crops, scientific farming methods and moral, religious, medical, and cultural uplift.

By 1948, the Penn School closed and became Penn Community Services.

In 1950, the Penn School officially became the Penn Center and the focus again changed — training midwives, opening the first daycare for African-American children, starting a teen canteen as a gathering place for local teenagers, and developing a community health clinic.

The Penn Center continues to evolve – serving as a conference and retreat center for churches and other organizations. It has hosted inter-racial conferences on civil rights and has served as a retreat for Martin Luther King, Jr. and other human rights activists. It has provided training for Peace Corps Agricultural workers and is a center for black history and cultural studies.

For the social hour, Mrs. Driscoll provided her very popular hickory nut cake, fresh fruit, toasted pecans and chocolate caramels, iced tea and coffee. The tea table was decorated with flowers from Mrs. Driscoll’s garden.

Submitted article