Penn Center, was founded in 1862 as one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves and used more than 100 years later by Dr. King as a retreat center for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“I am still searching myself, I don’t have all the answers,” Dr. King told his staff at Penn in 1966, when they were discussing the next step for the organization, according to transcripts of tapes.
Penn also offered a chance to unwind. Dr. King relaxed under the oak trees and played baseball. Joan Baez played the guitar for a group singalong.
On Wednesday, Thomas C. Barnwell Jr., 72, who was in charge of community development at Penn, gathered behind the campus museum with two other former staff members, Frieda R. Mitchell, 82, and Joseph McDomick, 72, to reminisce.
Ms. Mitchell, a pioneer in early childhood education and one of the first black school board members in Beaufort County (the other was also a Penn staff member), said she was determined to ask Dr. King one question:
“How can you tell me to love people who treat me as if I were not human?”
“I will never forget” his response, she said. “He said we are created in God’s image. So you love the image of God in that person.” She added: “I don’t know if I was able to use that, to apply that, in all different situations. But I always remembered it.”
Dr. King stayed here for the last time in 1967, just a few months before his death. He slept in a tiny, almost rudimentary cottage on the edge of the campus.