The property of the Lone Star Benevolent Society in Waynesboro is a bit of a mystery. Previous surveys have identified the large structure (above) as the society hall, but it certainly resembles a church. It’s possible it served both purposes. Lone Star was one of many fraternal organizations aimed at creating a sense of community and a source of burial insurance for black communities from Emancipation well into the early 20th century.
This small building is located beside the larger church-like structure.
Further away from the main building is this structure, which was almost certainly a schoolhouse.
I recently spent a weekend with a friend documenting historic black churches in Burke County, with the goal of visiting the final resting place of Ahmaud Arbery (8 May 1994-23 February 2020). It was a timely visit, as the three men responsible for his murder had all recently been found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for their act of racist vigilantism/lynching.
It gave me pause to think how much work still needs to be done to erase the attitudes that led to this heinous crime, though I’m encouraged that people of all races are just as repulsed by it as I am. While politicians continue to thread the needle with pie-in-the-sky philosophies intended to discourage any discussion of race, a majority white jury finding three white men guilty of lynching a young unarmed black man is proof that we have indeed made progress.
This church was founded by Reverend Quillar Vertery Russell (6 October 1889-26 June 1959), whose mausoleum is located on the property.
Russell was a successful entrepreneur who owned the mill in Keysville and other commercial interests. I’m unclear as to what the original name of the church was, but it has primarily been known as the Keysville Evangelistic Church. It has served both white and black congregants, and was last known as the New House of Worship.
In 1876, Adam McCullough and his wife Henrietta were walking on their property and decided that this site would be a wonderful place to build a house of worship. They made a covenant to each other that they would donate the land for this purpose, and from this covenant came McCullough Covenant Baptist Church. It was originally a branch of Pine Hill Baptist Church. Henry C. Lane was the first pastor. I am unsure when the present structure was built.
Mr. McCullough was among the most successful black entrepreneurs in late-19th-century Burke County, owning over 900 acres of land and a good herd of livestock. He owned a large home across the road from the present church and a cotton gin, as well. When Adam McCullough died in 1906, he left his entire estate to his fourth wife, Olive. She and his other three wives are all buried in the cemetery at McCullough Covenant.
The Reverend Dr. John L. Phelps (8 December 1866-15 November 1937), a reform-minded Presbyterian minister, established Boggs Academy in 1906, and gave a detailed account of its origins in “A New Institution – Boggs Academy“, published in the June 1911 edition of the Home Mission Monthly, a journal of the Woman’s Executive Committee of Home Missions of the Presbyterian Church. It’s amazing that this small, church-based school, established at a time of particularly bad race relations in the South, grew to become one of the most respected black boarding schools in the United States throughout its nearly 80 years of operation.
He wrote: In the early summer of 1906…the idea of a Presbyterian Church and industrial school for colored people in the rural district of Burke County, Georgia, took its beginning...I was anxious to go with my family into the darkest corner, and…work among the negroes of the “quarter” and on the large cotton plantations, were it not for the race prejudice and the misunderstandings that are certain to cause dangerous friction. [I was assured] that the better element of the white people stood ready to co-operate…[with] good wishes and financial help…
A church was opened for worship in the community in December 1906 with eight original members. It was named Morgan Grove Presbyterian Church, for Morgan Walker, who gave the land on which the church was built. I believe it may have been associated with another black Presbyterian congregation known as Spread Oak but haven’t confirmed that yet.
In January 1907, a school was opened within the walls of the church, and named Boggs Academy, for Virginia P. Boggs, who served for many years as the Corresponding Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Missions for Freedmen.
At the time of Phelps’s 1911 article, the campus consisted of six buildings situated on 40 acres. The Virginia P. Boggs Memorial Hall, which cost $5000 to build, was the main school building. The four acres on which it stood were donated by R. C. Neely of Waynesboro, whom Phelps considered “one of the school’s best friends”. Enrollment was around 100 students, with four teachers. Two were paid by the Freedmen’s Board of the Presbyterian Church and the other two were paid by the Burke County Board of Education. 25% of the students in 1911 were boarders from other communities. Focus in the earliest days was on normal and domestic curriculum, with industrial and agricultural instruction coming later. Boggs Academy held twice-yearly farmers’ conferences to help educate local black farmers on newer and more economical methods of production and they were supported by white farmers in this endeavor.
After a long and prosperous history, Boggs Academy officially ceased operation in 1986. The last class matriculated in 1984. An active alumni association still keeps the history of the institution alive and takes a keen interest in its preservation.
The newest structure on campus, the Phelps Building was constructed during the administration of Dr. Harold N. Stinson.
It is still used by the Boggs Rural Life Center, which was incorporated in 1990
Identifications for structures were found in the Boggs Charrette Report, prepared by the Center for Community Design and Preservation, College of Environment and Design, University of Georgia, prepared for the Boggs Rural Life Center in 2016.