COLUMBIA (WACH) -- 80 year old Wesley Smalls safeguards four pictures in his Saint Helena Island home. He got them from his father years ago.
â??We are trying to determine which one of these four pictures is my great grand father. My daddy had these in their old house, so I took the advantage and tried to restore it as much as I can,â?? says Wesley Smalls, Descendant of Slaves.
Smalls says the folks in the pictures are his relatives who were slaves. Heâ??s still trying to determine their role in history in his region.
Smalls lives a few minutes away from Port Royal a place once home to thousands of slaves.
Dr. Stephen Wise is the Parris Island Museum Director.
The center houses plenty of information on the history of Port Royal.
â??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,â?? 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.
â??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,â?? says Dr. Wise.
The program was called the Port Royal Experiment.
â??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,â?? says Dr. Wise.
It was during this time President Abraham Lincoln drafted an order called the Emancipation Proclamation. It was a war time measure to help ensure freedom for all slaves.
â??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,â?? 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. Itâ??s here in Port Royal that many historians say the 1st Black Regiment was born.
â??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,â?? says Dr. Wise.
Through the Port Royal experiment the Penn School now called the Penn Center was formed.
Located on St. Helena Island it was one of the first schools for freed slaves.
Today the center houses plenty of information from photos, artifacts and literature about slaves and their quest for freedom. Despite their freedom dr. wise says the proclamation would not be enough to secure their liberty and that's why President Lincoln had something else up his sleeve.
â??Emancipation Proclamation is a war document once the war is over it no longer holds water. You need the 13th amendment to make the Emancipation Proclamation federal law. For folks like Smalls he says he's just happy to be living in the land of freedom.
â??It makes me feel proud to know that all these years that we have really came a long way to determine where we are and where we stand in this United States of America,â?? says Wesley Smalls.
According to Dr. Wise the First Black Regiment went on serve in several campaigns including the civil war. They operated primarily between Jacksonville, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina.