Face of an Island:
Leigh Richmond Miner's Photographs
of Saint Helena Island

by Edith M. Dabbs

Face of an Island (Wyrick and Company)

Wyrick & Company (1970, reprinted). 203pp. 12 x 12.25 inches. Hardcover. ISBN-10: 0-941711-71-4. ISBN-13: 978-0-941711-71-5.


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From the Book Jacket

About the Book

St. Helena Island and Penn School

After the end of the Civil War, thousands of African-American freedmen, women and children lived on St. Helena, a barrier island on South Carolina's coast. Public education on the island had begun in 1862 through the efforts of two Northern women, Ellen Murray and Laura Towne. Though diligent in their efforts, they eventually became discouraged and returned to New England.

In 1865, the Freedmen's Relief Association of Philadelphia sent an entire schoolhouse by boat to the island, installed it and named it the Penn School. It was the first building in the South constructed solely to house a school for freedmen. Over the years, the school evolved into a wider reading organization known as Penn Community Services, providing a range of education, job training, health and other services for the black community.

The Photographs

Leigh Richmond Miner, a Connecticut-born photographer and member of the faculty of the Hampton Institute in Virginia for many years, first visited St. Helena in the early years of the twentieth century and began to photograph the work of the faculty and students of Penn School, as well as the daily activities of the black residents of the island and nearby Hilton Head Island.

Many years after Miner completed his work, his original glass plate negatives were discovered in the attic of an old workshop on the grounds of the school. When discovered, the glass plates had been wrapped in newspapers and cardboard and many were water-damaged. John H. McGrail at the University of South Carolina recognized the potential value of the photographer's work and painstakingly cleaned and restored those plates that were salvageable. Without Professor McGrail's skills and Edith M. Dabbs's persistent interest in putting this important volume of Miner's photographs together, we would not have this unique record of post-Civil War African-American life.

Edith M. Dabbs

The person most responsible for this book was Edith M. Dabbs, a native of Sumter, South Carolina. When her husband, James McBride Dabbs, became a trustee of Penn Community Services, Mrs. Dabbs accompanied him to St. Helena and began what would become a lifetime interest in the island's history and, in particular, the influence of the former Penn School. She lived with her family at Rips Raps, the family plantation home near Camden, South Carolina, until her death.

The Book

Originally published in 1970 as part of South Carolina's Tricentennial Celebration, Face of an Island has been out of print for many years. This reprint edition, authorized by the heirs of Edith M. Dabbs, is dedicated to her memory.

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