The Toni Morrison Society placed its eighth bench in its Bench by the Road Project Series on Tuesday, April 16th on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. This bench was placed in honor of a community of formerly enslaved African Americans who fought in the Union army and who escaped slavery in the South during the Civil War. General Ormbsy Mitchel, a union officer, who had led the Battle of Port Royal Sound in 1861, proposed after the battle that a town be created for these men and women who had escaped during the battle or who were left abandoned by the defeat of their owners. By 1862, the village, located on Beach City Road had become the home of nearly 1500 self-governing African Americans who built their own homes, started their own church, and grew their own food and built their own schools—the first public schools in South Carolina. Mitchelville village is a symbol of what enslaved men and women who desired for freedom could do for themselves and their community when given the opportunity to work for themselves and live free and independent lives.
The Bench was placed by The Mitchelville Preservation Project that was founded by Hilton Head Islanders in 2005. The Project’s mission “is to replicate, preserve, and sustain an historically significant site, to educate the public about the sacrifice, resilience and perseverance of the freedmen of Mitchelville, and to share the story of how these brave men and women planted strong and enduring familial roots for generations of future African-Americans.”