A small church in Port Royal – where former senator and pastor Clementa Pinckney preached – has been restored and reopened as a public interpretive center that highlights the town’s role in the nation’s history and the Pinckney story.

It’s a good game. Pickney preached at Porter’s Chapel for two years, from 1996 to 1998, before moving on and becoming a prominent political and religious leader in South Carolina.

In honor of Pinckney, Porter’s Chapel has a new name – Pinckney Porter’s Chapel.

“The legacy continues,” Jennifer Pinckney of Columbia, Pinckney’s widow, said during a church dedication at Naval Heritage Park last week, which was attended by family and friends as well as leaders and residents of Port Royal.

It was June 17, 2015, when Dylann Roof shot and killed Pinckney, along with eight others, during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. He was 41.

Although Pinckney is gone, said Port Royal Mayor Joe DeVito, his legacy of leadership and love lives on.

The town of Port Royal, DeVito said, led the effort to rebuild the chapel and decided to rename it Pinckney Porter Chapel in honor of Beaufort native Pinckney because of his history with the church. of Port-Royal.

The church, which was located on the corner of Old Shell Road and 16th Street, was moved to Naval Heritage Park in 2019 and is now manned by a National Park Service Ranger after a $300,000 restoration that included a stipend $240,000 in Beaufort County lodging taxes. The exhibits are newer and the dedication included Jennifer Pinckney cutting a ribbon to officially open the interpretive center.

Along with the interpretive exhibits inside, the church is also the starting point for tours of historic Saxton Camp, which was established to train black soldiers in 1862.

DeVito called the restoration and new purpose of the old church a “fantastic” example of cooperation among many people and agencies.

Family members who attended the dedication, such as proud father John Pinckney, said they were honored by the gesture.

“’Come on, dad, we have to go!’ John Pinckney remembers his son telling him on Sundays when he was only 13 and already preaching in area churches.

There are “awful things” happening in the world, Pinckney’s 18-year-old daughter Eliana said, but today, she added, is a “happy day”.

“Thank you,” Eliana told the crowd, “and I appreciate you.”

Jennifer Pinckney of Columbia said it was an honor for her when people recognized what her husband stood for. Since her death, many people have come forward and shared how they were helped by Clementa, she added, which surprised her.

“He was a gentle giant,” Jennifer Pinckney said, adding that the family is still grieving.

Porter’s Chapel, built by freed slaves, remained an active church until 2004.

Now it tells the stories of the people of Port Royal and their role in emancipation, reconstruction and the black church. People like Pinckney.

“It was a story that was long ignored,” says Richard Condon, a National Park Service ranger who worked on the exhibits with the help of students from the University of South Carolina at Beaufort.

In 1862 Camp Saxton was established on the old Smith Plantation on the island of Port Royal. It was the home of the 1st South Carolina Infantry, which was later redesignated the 33rd United States Colored Troops. Included in the displays is the likeness of Sgt. Prince Rivers in his soldier’s uniform, which was put together using photographs.

On January 1, 1863, in a grove of oak trees, the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the men of the 1st South Carolina Infantry, along with hundreds of other former slaves. It was one of the largest public gatherings for a reading and celebration of the proclamation in the South. The soldiers received a flag embroidered with “The year of jubilee has come!”

Some residents still active in Port Royal today, Condon said, can trace their roots directly to Camp Saxton.

The section on Clementa Pinckney notes that he became a pastor at age 18 and was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1996 and the state Senate in 2004. He has overseen 17 churches in the area, including Porter’s Chapel.

“It’s a wonderful tribute to Senator Pinckney – but also to our history,” said Anita Stevenson Magwood of Marion, SC, Pinckney’s cousin, pausing in front of the photographs of a smiling Pinckney and the copy that accompanies him. accompanies, which notes that Pickney, in his final weeks, advocated for new laws requiring police officers to wear body cameras to prevent abuses such as the 2105 fatal shooting by a police officer of Walter Scott in Charleston.

“I think every youngster should come,” Magwood added.

Jennifer Pinckney — Pinckney’s “girlfriend” at the time — recalls the trips she and Clementa made from Columbia to Porter’s Chapel, when Pinckney used to talk about the awe-inspiring scenery and history of the lowcountry. He was 23 at the time and some in the congregation doubted his abilities. But Pinckney, his wife said, was a teacher and a leader even then.

Porter’s Chapel has its roots in Parris Island and was brought to Port Royal in 1901, according to church tradition.

Condon, the park ranger, expects the chapel to receive more visitors with the addition of the exhibits and the new name.