Special things happen under the spreading limbs of the giant Angel Oak. They have been happening for hundreds of years: People get engaged and people get married; friends have picnics and worship groups have services; neighbors share stories and strangers make friends.
On Sunday, about 300 people gathered at the Angel Oak on Johns Island for a pot-luck meal to celebrate its presence and demonstrate why it is important that acreage around the tree be conserved.
In keeping with the tree’s history, they were black and white, young and old. The Gullah-Geechee Nation’s Queen Quet came and offered a blessing of the oak tree.
The crowd listened to the recorded voice of late civil rights activist Septima Clark saying that it was one place on Johns Island — maybe the only place — that was never segregated. If the surrounding area is developed, good luck hearing a quiet conversation over loud construction and traffic.
The Lowcountry Open Land Trust is raising money to purchase 17 acres of land adjacent to the Angel Oak Park. To date, $750,000 has been pledged or donated. The cost is $1.2 million, and gifts have been coming in at a rate of $8,000 to $10,000 a day.
The Nov. 21 deadline is fast approaching, but LOLT director Elizabeth Hagood is optimistic that the goal will be reached. Key is a decision today by the state Conservation Bank about whether to designate money for the Angel Oak purchase — and how much.
But the Land Trust’s sights are set beyond that goal. There is another 17-acre parcel of adjacent property that is zoned for development into 274 units. The Land Trust would like to buy that as well so that the tree and its environs will be better protected in perpetuity. It would allow more space for walking trails and educational features describing the site’s significance and history, and more quiet for people to soak in the extraordinary majesty of the oak.
The effort is drawing wide support. Gifts — small and large — have come from some 10,000 people all over the country. The city of Charleston gave $250,000 to the cause; the LOLT and Historic Charleston Foundation each gave $50,000; Seabrook Island, $25,0000; Blackbaud and Boeing, $25,000 each; and Piggly Wiggly stores collected donations averaging $1.37 apiece from thousands of customers.
Mrs. Hagood likes to say that “conservation builds community,” and Sunday’s gathering at the Angel Oak says she is right. It’s a beautiful and inspiring legacy worth preserving.