CHARLESTON, S.C. (WACH/AP) -- This New Year's as the nation marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation , one observance will be held on the South Carolina coast where the reading has special resonance. That's because the sea islands southwest of Charleston were occupied by Union forces earlier in the Civil War and blacks there already knew freedom.
Bernard Powers of the College of Charleston History Department will speak New Year's Day at a Beaufort event marking the anniversary of the reading of the proclamation in nearby Port Royal. There, about 3,000 freed blacks joined a black Union regiment of South Carolina blacks to hear it read.Dr. Stephen Wise is the Parris Island Museum Director. The center houses plenty of information on the history of Port Royal. ??The United States government is using Port Royal as sort of a training ground. For economic, military, social, political changes based around the former slave population, on how they want to see the United States formed after the war,?? says Dr. Stephen Wise. Months after South Carolina seceded from the union, federal ships from the north surrounded the island blocking off the port. Those in the confederate army fled the area when the troops came in leaving thousands of slaves behind. These troops knew something needed to be done to help the slaves who were left at Port Royal. ??Federal government comes in establishes a program to take care of them and the Secretary of Treasury Salmon Chase sets up what he believes should be the base for future reconstruction in the south,?? says Dr. Wise. The program was called the Port Royal Experiment . ??All under a general by the name of Rufus Saxton who has hired the former slaves on plantations. They get paid to work on the plantations, they are gathering up money,?? says Dr. Wise. ??On January 1, 1863 about 11:15, 11:30 that morning they will read the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation here at Port Royal. Some people claim this is the first official reading of the Emancipation Proclamation,?? says Dr. Wise. Soon after history is made. The Emancipation Proclamation motivated many slaves in Beaufort County to want to fight for the federal government. It??s here in Port Royal that many historians say the 1st Black Regiment was born. ??They will serve on raids on the sea island coast one of the primary missions was to go in to really destroy any evidence of slave, open up land for possible settlements by the former slaves,?? says Dr. Wise.
Powers, who is black, likens it to what many felt four years ago with Barack Obama's election. He says many never dreamed they would see a black president.
The Emancipation Day Service and Feast begins at 10 A.M. New Year's Day at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Beaufort.