By Shayla Martin Feb. 5, 2023
Founded in 1862, Mitchelville was the first self-governed town of free Black people in the United States. At its height, 3,000 formerly enslaved residents lived on 200 acres. The residents elected their own officials and had compulsory education and their own system of laws — rights that had previously been denied to them. Their West African heritage is the foundation for the region’s Gullah Geechee culture, a distinct blend of West African art, crafts, cuisine, music and language influenced by life on the Sea Islands and the coastal plains of the Southeast.
Today, Mitchelville is a park and archaeological site where visitors can embark on self-guided tours to understand a time when newly freed African Americans successfully pursued self-governance. Visitors can also explore several reconstructed buildings from that era, including a homestead house, and see a bateau riverboat. Future plans include a commemorative park with an 18,000-square-foot visitors’ center, event lawn and up to 10 reconstructed houses that represent the cluster of homes during the 1800s.