Established by enslaved people on the Cooper Plantation by Reverend George Linder in 1859, Strawberry Chapel is the oldest African-American congregation in Laurens County. This structure, though perhaps not the first that they built, was in use well into the 20th century. My guess is that it dates to the late 19th or early 20th century. The congregation, now known as Greater Strawberry A.M.E. Church, has a newer facility just down the road.
Tag Archives: Georgia African-American History & Culture
I haven’t been able to locate any history of this congregation, but it was traditionally known as Hatoff Church, as the road sign confirms.
It’s possible that a later congregation used the facility, as the adjacent cemetery is known as Mt. McCrae.
There are several interesting headstones in the cemetery, including these traditional wooden markers.
Such markers are found in African-American and white burying grounds alike.
The vernacular headstones of Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church Cemetery in the old Trade Hill-Seabrook area were memorialized by photographer Orrin Sage Wightman in Margaret Davis Cate’s beloved book, Early Days of Coastal Georgia (Fort Frederica Association, St. Simons Island, 1956). The images, made mostly in the 1930s and 1940s, depict monuments in much newer condition than we see today, and many which have vanished altogether.
The most significant of these monuments were predominately wooden markers and whimsies thought to have been made by Cyrus Bowens. None of these survive at the site today but a small collection of concrete markers remain, also attributed to Cyrus Bowens. [Findagrave lists a Cyrus Bowens, who died in 1866, among those buried at Sunbury Missionary Baptist, but these graves were made much later than that This Cyrus Bowens appears to have been active in the 1930s].
The Fuller monument and the seven images that follow feature delicate hand-incised natural forms and symbols.
My friend, the photographer Mandy Green Yates, has found and documented numerous forgotten places in South Georgia in recent years but when she found this church, she decided to get involved with saving part of its history. At first, she was fascinated by the structure but soon realized the forlorn cemetery was even more important. While photographing the property, she met Aundre Walker, who has connections to the congregation and has been working to clean up the property and the cemetery with no outside help for at least three years. Mandy put her principles to practice and has been helping with the cleanup ever since. She created a Facebook page to schedule volunteers, as well as a GoFundMe page for donations. And apparently, the project is moving along quite successfully, with lots of volunteers and progress being made. I am amazed at what she and Mr. Walker have been able to accomplish.
The congregation was established by recently emancipated freedmen just after the Civil War and became associated with the Christian Methodist Episcopal sect in the early 1870s. Like many white churches, it got its start in a brush arbor or “hush arbor” in the parlance of African-Americans of the time. This indicated a private place for worship, away from whites who often monitored their activities. It also served the community as a school for a time.
The church itself is typical of the construction of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. The congregation officially disbanded about 15 years ago and many members joined nearby churches.
As is evident in this image, the steeple has long ago been compromised by the loss of its roof and has begun to collapse.
Though the cemetery remains the primary focus, it would be nice if the church could be saved, as well. Unfortunately, the area it is located in is undergoing rapid urbanization.
When I looked around the cemetery, I could only imagine the sadness and determination Aundre Walker felt when he decided to begin the reclamation. The grounds are quite large and looked nothing like this three years ago. It would have looked more like a forest than a graveyard.
Doing all of this work by hand has been a labor of love and a means of respecting the lives of those who would have otherwise been forgotten had he not taken on this project. I’m sure he is grateful for the new attention that Mandy Green Yates has brought to the work, though neither of these people is doing it for praise or recognition. In my opinion, they deserve it.
Harvey and Dorothy Lewis Thompson opened the Imperial Hotel in 1949, as the only reliable lodging option in Thomasville for African-Americans. At the height of the Jim Crow era, when the simple act of travel could be dangerous for black people, the Imperial Hotel was listed in the Negro Motorist Green-Book travel guides, made famous by the 2018 motion picture. Dorothy’s brothers, the Lewis Brothers, were skilled brick masons and built the structure from the foundation to the top. The hotel featured eight bedrooms, a restaurant and barber shop. It closed in 1969 and has been in a state of decline since being abandoned in 2001.
Local historian Jack Hadley (of the Jack Hadley Black History Museum), who purchased the hotel in 2018, has been leading an effort to restore the property for several years. It inclusion in this year’s Places in Peril by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation has brought the attention of CEO Mark McDonald, who has committed assistance to the project and expresses great enthusiasm for its future. To donate, visit Thomasville Landmarks.
In the end the property may reflect its original role as a hotel; plans to make it an Airbnb are presently in development with Florida A&M University architecture students and other consultants.
I’m unsure if it’s related to the hotel, but this shotgun house is located on the same property.
According to a synopsis published on their website, Mother Easter Baptist Church was founded in 1894 by Rev. James O. Kelley, Alex Deberry, C.W. Hall, Sim Baker, Will Peterson and R.W. Ramsey. The original site was on a 1875 foot lot located in Northeast Moultrie near the Tifton-Thomasville, Georgia Railroad Company.
The church is named in honor of the woman(Mother Easter) who gave the founders permission, before the original site was built, to hold services in her home. Today information about Mother Easter is limited; however, it is believed that she is the same Easter Smith on the 1900 population census for Colquitt County whom records corroborate was a sixty-five year old widow who owned her own home and worked as a domestic in the home of Daniel Horne.
Rev. James O. Kelley was the first pastor of the church. He was a dynamic minister and worked diligently to build his congregation. In 1898, Rev. Kelley resigned and George H. Hunter became the second pastor. In 1903 there was a fire and a new church was built on Third Street and services were held on first and third Sundays.
On January 25,1905 the new church and the pastor’s home was destroyed by a fire. On March 17, 1906, conference convened and the members decided to construct a new church. On March 22, 1906, the property on the corner of Second Avenue and Fourth Street Northwest, where the historic church now stands, was purchased from Issac M.D. Turner.
A new church as completed in 1985 and remains in use today.
I’m grateful to Mandy Green Yates for making me aware of this wonderful structure.
This hip-roof shotgun house in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood was once home to Little Richard (Richard Wayne Penniman), the “Architect of Rock n’ Roll”. It is typical of the domestic architecture found in working class African-American neighborhoods in Macon in the early 20th century. The house originally stood several blocks away but was moved to this location to save it from an expansion project on Interstate 75. It is much nicer looking today than it was in Little Richard’s time in Macon; he noted he grew up in a “rundown house on a dirt street”. It is a museum today, known officially as The Little Richard House Resource Center.
The headstone marking the final resting place of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jackson (15 January 1850-15 March 1883) in the African-American section of Memory Hill is worthy of special mention as a singular work of art. More importantly, it serves as validation that the influence of artistic movements generally associated with White communities also reached African-Americans. As headstones go it’s quite diminutive, scarcely a foot-and-a-half in height, but its visual appeal is unmistakable.
Lizzie Jackson was likely born into the institution of slavery and, though little is known of her life, research by Cynthia Jennings found that she was living at the time of the 1870 Census on Franklin Street, the same street Memory Hill Cemetery is located on. This section of town was predominately African-American well into the 20th century. Lizzie resided at the time with a Susan Palmer, who may have been her mother or grandmother. She was married and had a son (Randall) and daughter.
Dutch Henderson has studied this marker, and a couple others which have since been removed from the cemetery. The “missing” markers are similar to this this one and all feature a sunflower. They are all believed to have been accomplished as “side jobs” by an employee of the McMillan Brick Works of Milledgeville. This example is signed [R.J], which may represent Lizzie’s son, Randall. He would have had the schooling necessary to write the words. Lizzie’s husband and son were both involved in the brick industry at the McMillan Works.
As to the importance of artistic influence, the patterns draw heavily upon the emerging Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1880s. The movement focused on natural forms and the sunflower is among its notable icons. The top of the marker is “diapered”, a term for brick made with a repeating diamond pattern.
Vines and flowers were recurring themes of the movement, as well, especially in the patterns of William Morris, one of its most influential artist/designers.
National Register of Historic Places