After Union occupation of the sea islands in 1861, Northern missionaries Laura Towne and Ellen Murray and abolitionists founded Penn Center in 1862 for the education of newly freed Sea Island slaves. The Penn School operated through the end of World War II when education was provided by the Beaufort County school system. The school preserved much of the Island's African-American history and culture through collections, historical documentation, oral histories, musical recordings and handicrafts (especially sweetgrass baskets). The facility also served as a meeting place for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prior to the March on Washington in 1963. The Penn School and Center is available today for tours, educational enrichment, conventions and group enrichment. More than 1,000 works on African American Gullah culture and Sea Island history are housed in the Laura Towne Library. Each year, the site is the setting for the Heritage Days Celebration, featuring Gullah song, dance and art. Introduced in 2005, the two week Gullah Studies Institute is designed to introduce audiences to the Gullah Culture and Penn Center.
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