This February, Jekyll Island will host the 2nd Annual Black History Month Event Series, with three events planned for the public.
The first event in the series, to be held February 12, will be a very special presentation from esteemed special guest Ambassador Andrew Young, who will present his documentary, “Change in the Wind.” This award-winning film highlights the kindred friendship between “Gone with the Wind” author Margret Mitchell and former Morehouse president Dr. Benjamin Mays, set in the deeply segregated South of the 1940s.
Jekyll Island will also host a sweetgrass basket weaving workshop on February 16, with Master Basket Weaver Yvonne Grovner.
A third special event will highlight the inspiring story of black Union Army soldiers who migrated to Jekyll Island in the years following the Emancipation Proclamation and end of the Civil War. This live re-enactment, titled “Jubilee!”, celebrates the troops coming to freedom and is hosted by Civil War Reenactor Joseph McGill.
To dig a bit deeper into this educational performance, Jekyll Island’s Historical Program Coordinator Andrea Marroquin offers a look inside the lives and times of these black Union troops. Read on to learn more about the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first black Union Army Regiment, who came to Jekyll Island more than 150 years ago.
Their First Trophies
By Andrea Marroquin
The First South Carolina Volunteers, the first black Union Army Regiment, arrived on Jekyll Island in January of 1863, 150 years ago.
The regiment consisted of 700 formerly enslaved African Americans living along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Based out of Port Royal, they operated under the command of Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson.
On one of its first expeditions, the troops were sent down the coast to capture Confederate supplies and “to carry the proclamation of Freedom to the enslaved.” This expedition brought them to Jekyll Island, where the soldiers spent several days salvaging a great quantity of railroad iron from abandoned Confederate batteries.
Some of the soldiers had once assisted in building these rebel fortifications. Higginson reported that “The men enjoyed demolishing them far more than they had relished their construction. . . . The men seem to regard these massive bars as their first trophies; and if the rails had been wreathed in roses they could not have been got out in more holiday style.”
The First South Carolina Volunteers made significant contributions to Union efforts along the coast, gathering supplies and liberating enslaved men, women, and children. Higginson wrote “The men have been repeatedly under fire . . . and have in every instance come off not only with unblemished honor, but with undisputed triumph.”
In 1864, the First South Carolina Volunteers were renamed. Known thereafter as the 33rd United States Colored Troops, the soldiers captured Battery Gregg on James Island, fought in the Battle of Honey Hill, and later provided military support to the Freedman’s Bureau in South Carolina.
The regiment mustered out on February 9, 1866. It was the longest-serving African American military unit of the Civil War. Upon disbanding, the regiment’s silk flag, which the soldiers had carried since Emancipation Day, was sent to Washington. In embroidery, the flag proclaimed “The Year of Jubilee has come!”
Want to learn more? Make plans to join us for all the events in our Jekyll Island Black History Month event series! The evening with Ambassador Andrew Young and screening of “Change in the Wind” will be held at 7 p.m. February 12 at the Jekyll Island Convention Center. Admission is free.
The sweetgrass basket weaving workshop will be held from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. February 16 at Villa Ospo in the Historic District. The $45 fee includes materials. Places are limited and reservations are required.
The “Jubilee!” live performance will be held at 7 p.m. February 21 at the Jekyll Island Museum. Admission is $5 per person and reservations are required.
For reservations or more information about any of these events, please call the Jekyll Island Museum at 912.635.4036. Guests may also RSVP on our Facebook page here.