I am uncertain how old this church is or the congregation. I would age the building to be around the 1900s.
Located approximately two miles down a dirt road is the Smith Chapel and School. The scene above sits on the front of the church as a greeting for anyone who enters. Founded in 1911, there isn’t much know about the congregation.
Located in Heardmont, this unnamed school sits next to the Bethel Grove Baptist Church. My assumption is that it is called the Bethel Grove School. I am still looking for info. The church was founded in 1885. This was verified as a school in an oral history project I found online titled, “In Those Days, African American Life near the Savannah River.”
For approximately fifty years after the Civil War, a popular way to memorialize young children who had passed was a figure resting in a half shell. Prior to 1900, twenty-two percent of all children in the United States died before their first birthday.
The shell can represent a pilgrimage, spiritual protection, and innocence. Using those meetings, it makes sense this became a symbol for child graves.
Wealthier families would employ sculptors to make one that represented their child. Poor families, who wanted their children memorialized, adopted the shell as a way to mark graves when Sears Roebuck offered them in their catalog.
Here is a great academic article about these monuments by Annette Stott.
Founded in 1882, Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery in Athens, Georgia was the first cemetery owned by Black community in town. Over 3,000 Black Athenians have been laid to rest here. From Monroe “Pink” Morton, a prominent builder and namesake of the Morton Theater, to noted quilt maker, Harriet Powers.
The Gospel Pilgrims were a benevolent organization started after the Civil War. One benefit the group provided was burial insurance. In Athens, the organization was so popular that by 1912 almost 75% Black Athenians were members.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Located in Cohutta, Georgia, there is a small group of two churches and a school that represent small Black community that lived in this north Georgia town. The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation listed it as a Place in Peril. The Andrews Chapel, shown above, was built in 1902 and moved to it’s current location on the edge of downtown in 1923. The building is need of serious repair.
The Old Colored School was built in 1930 and was used until 1953. It was used as a fellowship hall by the two congregations located closest to it.
Tilley Bend Baptist Church is located in the mountains of Fannin County. It organized in 1858 and was relocated to this location in the late 1920s because the local electric company was creating a reservoir.
Based on what I’ve read in other sites, it seems the cemetery existed before the church was built since there were burials before the 1920s in the cemetery.
One fascinating tale is that Elizabeth Tilley Bradley put a hex on the fighting Tilly and Stanley families. No children were born or lived past infancy after this supposed curse was placed. Church and community members hung her from the tree in the center of the cemetery and buried her below the tree.
I don’t believe the story because why would a church bury a witch in their sacred burial grounds? However, this story has been repeated enough that someone was in the churchyard recently and burned something near the tree. Elizabeth’s head and foot stones are on the other side of the tree.
According to a couple of other blogs out there, this isn’t the first time for someone to find burns near the tree.
Other great reading on this church, and it’s graveyard can be found at:
Located in Cowee, or Too Cowee, North Carolina, Pleasant Hill AME Church was started in 1874. Prior to the Civil War, Cowee was home to a significant population of freedmen and women and enslaved people. After the Civil War, Cowee had the most significant population of Black families in this part of Western North Carolina. This church building was built in 1929 and restored in 2009. While the church is no longer active, the cemetery is still used. This church is part of the Cowee Historic District for Macon County, North Carolina.
Built in the late 1870s, the Gillespie Chapel sits atop a steep hill where the front steps put you close to the edge of the hill. Regular services ended in 1975, but it now serves the Upper Cartoogechaye area as a community space.
In celebration of its 100th year, descendants of students who attended Kinlaw Rosenwald School are restoring this 3-teacher type school. Once the restoration is complete, this school will serve the Kinlaw community for years to come.
When I visited with my friend, Brian, we were lucky enough to meet one of the men helping go restore the building, Marshall Glover. You can read more about the school and donate money by visiting the school’s site.
Located in Camden County, Georgia, Rising Daughter Baptist Church, the cemetery is filled with a mixture of vernacular and commercial headstones. I am uncertain of the age of the church and cemetery, but based on headstones I would the age the congregation to be from the 1910s.
This is one of the Madonna markers, my friend Brian and I located in three different cemeteries. A full post about these markers are located here.
These markers show a repeated motif of the loops. If these marks are called something else, please let me know.
Harold and Thelma Swain were murdered inside the church. Their case remains unsolved after DNA evidence exonerated the man who initially went to jail. There is a new suspect in the case. For more information, their story can be read here.
My friend, Brian Brown, and I planned a photo trip while I was down at St. Simons for the week. As I was looking through Find-a-Grave, I noticed these vernacular figures repeated in a couple cemeteries. We decided to take a look. After seeing a couple, we realized they were likely a Mary/Madonna figure. The elements have worn off many of the details.
Since these were all in cemeteries of Black churches, it is possible that a local funeral home did them, or that it was a local artist. This is the first time I’ve personally seen a connection in monuments like these in several cemeteries. Even though likely cast, I do consider these vernacular in nature.