Celebrating African American Churches and Music

It was cold and dreary outside but a packed house had a great time at the winter meeting of the Chattooga County Historical Society at the Summerville Depot on Sunday afternoon, January 11th. The program focused on the history of African American churches in Chattooga County.

Historians representing seven longstanding congregations in the county shared information about the earliest years of their churches. The program was moderated by Chattooga County native Linda Farmer Hawkins. Ms. Hawkins kept the afternoon moving at a brisk pace and she and Minister Melvin Mosley launched the program with a rousing rendition of We Used to Have a Good Time, a song that describes old-time church meetings.

Holland Churches Worked Together

The first two church histories, those for Pond Springs A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) and Finley Chapel Methodist Church in the Holland Community were presented by the ever-youthful Clemmie Adams Black. Mrs. Black set a tone for the other speakers when she quoted her longtime good friend and fellow educator, Mrs. Ruth Hoskins. Mrs. Hoskins said, “When you are called on to speak, stand up straight to be seen and sit down to be appreciated.”

Mrs. Black presented a snapshot of the history of these two churches, the first of which was founded on land given by Sam Finley, son of an original pioneer of the same name. Mrs. Black’s great-grandmother had been born a slave on the Finley plantation. Many of Mrs. Black’s reminiscences from girlhood, including church life, were chronicled in the most recent edition of the Historical Society’s quarterly publication.

Later in the program, Mr. Alfred McDaniel presented the history of the Cedar Springs Baptist Church at Holland. Many of the same names appeared in the presentations by Mrs. Black and Mr. McDaniel because the black churches in the Holland area have always had a loving relationship. Even today, because the churches have too few members to meet every Sunday, the people in the community simply rotate, worshipping one Sunday at one church and the next at another.

Churches Important in Development of Summerville

Arbie Avery presented the history of Hemphill A.M.E. Zion Church in Summerville. Hemphill today bears the name of a respected early minister and educator and it is remembered that Hemphill at one time housed the first school for African American children in Summerville, the Summerville Colored School. This school was eventually absorbed into what became the A.C. Carter School and was moved into the former location of the Taylor Institute, a short-lived private school for white children. One of Hemphill A.M.E. church’s pastors was the venerable C.L. Jones, whose name was mentioned in several of the presentations Sunday.

The history of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Summerville was presented by Denise Brown. Ms. Brown recounted the beginnings of the church in 1873. Then, in 1901, when the Summerville Baptist Church decided to build a new building on lots acquired from Judge John Mattox, New Bethel acquired the old Summerville Baptist Church. The New Bethel congregation continues to meet on this same plot of land—albeit in a newer building—today.

Menlo Churches—Few in Number But Going Strong

Myrtis Evans was there to represent Lawrence Chapel United Methodist Church in Menlo. In the course of her presentation she mentioned the history of each of the African American churches and schools in the Menlo area. Just prior to the turn of the twentieth century, the Lawrence estate (the descendants of Mr. A.J. Lawrence, considered the “father” of Menlo) donated several small parcels of land for black churches and a school. Down through the years, dwindling membership has caused some of the churches to cease meeting on a regular basis. Mrs. Evans has been the clerk and historian of her church for several decades. While there are fewer than a dozen active members, Lawrence Chapel continues to meet and Mrs. Evans shows no sign of slowing down!

Pioneers Jane and Richard Hubbard, Caroline Floyd

The final church history, Oak Hill Missionary Baptist Church, was presented by Maxine Mosley West. It should be noted that Ms. West, a retired educator and Historical Society board member, was the organizer of the entire program. She read excerpts of her church’s history, originally penned 100 years ago by her grandmother, Mrs. Jessie Salmon Mosley—and still read aloud annually at Oak Hill. She recounted the efforts of the founding members, Jane and Richard Hubbard and Caroline Floyd. It was Sister Hubbard who finally had the courage to ask her former slave master, Dr. Franklin W. Cheney, for land to build a church. Dr. Cheney gave them an acre on a beautiful hillside and near a spring, land holdings to which the church has been able to add over the years. The church remains very active today and meets every Sunday of the month.

Numerous threads tied each of these histories together. Many were presented by church clerks, at least two of whom have served a half-century in that office. All told, the presenters represented over 300 years of service to Chattooga County church. Each of the churches has always depended on and enjoyed fellowship with sister churches. It was pointed out that not nearly all the African American churches were included in today’s program. Maxine West continues to collect and save the histories of these churches and is actively engaged in preserving material pertaining to the A.C. Carter School and its precursors.

A.M.F. Quintet – A Happy Chattooga Tradition

To round out the program, there was a mini-concert by the ever-popular A.M.F. Quintet, organized in 1960. Linda Hawkins gave an entertaining history of the group. People often wonder where the name of the group originated. It was for surnames of the Adams sisters, two of whom married Mosleys and one who married a Favors. The founders were Louise Adams Favors, Lena Adams Mosley, Katie Ruth Adams Jackson and Aileen Adams Mosley. Later Jessie Perry Mosley was added to the group. Current personnel are Linda Farmer Hawkins, Jeneal Farmer Johnson, Jenell Bynum and Lovie Smith.

Another group of sisters, The Farmer Spirituals, had started singing around 1953. The Farmers split up as they graduated from high school and went away to college. In 1972, the Farmers merged with the A.M.F. Quintet when Jeneal and Linda Farmer (both still with the group today) returned to live and work in the county. Mercifully, their maiden name—Farmer—fit the A.M.F. name! The single surviving founding member of the A.M.F. Quintet is Mrs. Louise Adams Favors. Mrs. Favors was present and received a warm ovation. The concert included a moving rendition of How Great Thou Art and a spirited, hand-clapping version of Down by the Riverside that ended the program on a very high note.

The meeting also saw the election of a new slate of officers for 2015. They include Gene McGinnis, Reba Phillips Welch, Ella Cox, Dianne Fulton, Elaine Patterson Miller, Sue Houston, Brenda Lanier, Joe Pullen and Steven Strickland. At-large board members approved include Maxine Mosley West, Sam Kohler, Linda Farmer Hawkins, Mary Myers and Jane Stephenson Petitt.