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Black History in Pickens Part IV: Historic Black Churches

 

1968 Vacation Bible School at Friendship Baptist Church. Rev. James Dargon is seen in the center and Rev. Charles O. Walker to the right. (Photo courtesy Vanishing Georgia.)

 

By Dr. Kathleen Thompson

This article is the 4th in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County. Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including; archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents and searches of early newspapers. This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Previous installments of this series can be found at www. pickensprogress.com

In Appalachia, churches are the heart of community. They provide spiritual guidance, fellowship and support in times of need. Each of Pickens County’s four historic Black churches have been in existence for over one hundred years. Mt. Calvary, in Tate, was established in 1886 while the Tate Methodist Episcopal Church, now Miracle Fellowship Holiness Church, was built in 1887 or possibly a year or two later. Friendship Baptist Church was founded in the 1880s making this congregation the oldest Black church in Pickens County. Started in 1910, and now 101 years old, Pilgrim Baptist Church in Nelson is the youngest of the four. All have ties to the marble industry and the Tate family, having had land or parts of their facilities donated by the Georgia Marble Company.

History of Mount Calvary Baptist Church

Contributed by Mrs. Willie Mae Weaver

From The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia by Stephen E. Griffeth

A Baptist Church for Blacks was organized in Tate, Pickens County, Ga., by Rev. J.N. Jennings. The church was given the honor of being named by a woman, a member of a neighboring church, Mrs. Lucy Armstrong. Mrs. Armstrong saw fit to bestow upon this church the name, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, a name which served as an inspiration to early members and which has grown dear to many generations in Tate.

The organization of this church took place in a school building a few hundred yards from the present structure at the turn of the hill leading to Smokey Hollow. This building was destroyed by fire. The young church, heroic in spirit determined to go forward under God. Hence, they worshipped under a brush arbor without a shepherd, inviting ministers as opportunity offered, praying and working together, and the good Lord blessed their efforts.

In 1903-04 Deacon Jeff Strickland, assisted by Deacon Sam King and others, laid plans for the present house of worship. The plans were successful. The church is in the shape of a cross.

Mr. Jeff Strickland, an ex-slave, was Colonel Tate’s valet. One night Colonel Sam got into a terrible brawl which was very frightening. Mr. Strickland came to his aide and he credited him with saving his life.  Colonel Sam was very deeply affected by the courageousness of Mr. Strickland’s help and wanted to do something very special for him. Since Mr. Strickland was a Baptist and a deacon in the church and he knew they needed a church building, Colonel Sam chose this way of showing his appreciation by helping build Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. Mrs. Bell Strickland, Jeff Strickland’s second wife, was the first Sunday School teacher at Mt. Calvary.  Colonel Sam Tate, the late president of the Georgia Marble Company, stood by this church with his money, advice and influence. Ever serving in the spirit of Christ, he proved himself to be a Christian philanthropist.

The church’s first pastor, Rev. Lloyd, was called to the pastorship, and after a few years was followed by Rev. Tuggle. Under Rev. Tuggle’s administration, Brother John O. Stephens, Robert Hamilton and Augustus Hamilton were ordained as deacons and Brother Earl Patrick was licensed to preach. During Tuggle’s tenure the Senior Mission, Baptist Young People’s Union and the Junior Mission were organized.

The next pastor, Rev. W.H. Ferrell who organized the Usher Board, and under his leadership the church joined State and National conventions, as well as the Foreign Mission Board.

The church building was enlarged when Rev. J.J. Watson led the congregation.  The wings were expanded and a choir stand added. The Georgia Marble Company donated a pulpit.  From 1942 to 1949, Rev. G.P. McKinney led the church.  While he directed the congregation, the church was remodeled with the addition of hardwood floors, new bathrooms, pews, pulpit furniture, a new piano, and a central heating system.  Homecoming and Vacation Bible School were established as events that are still looked foreword to with great anticipation.

Between 1959 and 1960 Rev. E.H. Mitchell served as Shepard of the Flock followed by Rev. E.R. Davie. During Rev. Davie’s tenure additional bathrooms were installed and the dining room added. In 1979 he resigned to become the Director of Black Church Relations for the Southern Baptist Convention.

For the next seven years Rev. Paul Reynolds was pastor of the church. During that time the building was again renovated and central air conditioning was added. Other subsequent pastors have included Rev. Gregory Smith (1988-91) and Pastor Leland Jones. Rev. Charles Morgan is the current pastor.  This is his third year of serving the church with diligence and stirring preaching.

As we march into another century of church work, we feel secure in looking to God for future guidance in winning souls for Christ.

Services are held on the second and third Sundays at 11:30 a.m. Sunday School is every Sunday at 10. Homecoming is always the second Sunday in June. Mt. Calvary Baptist Church is located on Smokey Hollow Road between Tate and Nelson. Turn right off of Highway 53 East just before the Tate Mansion. The church is on the left just after the road to Head Start.

On Sunday, Nov. 20, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church’s congregation will be 125 years old.  Friends and neighbors are invited to share in this auspicious anniversary. It would be wonderful to see a turnout that included old friends from the community and other churches.

Miracle Friendship

Holiness Church

The Methodist church was vacant for about 15-20 years and then, in the 1970s, the Holiness believers took over. Three ladies, Pastor Moss, Mother Thurman and Gladys Glover, are responsible for starting the services.

Pastor Mamie Sue Moss found the church in a deplorable condition. She collected money in order to do some refurbishing to the inside of the church. The walls were paneled, carpet came from Calhoun Nelson Baptist Church gave some pews and E.L. Howell built the restrooms.

A piano was donated by a lady from Marietta, Edna Glover; chairs were donated by friends from Marietta and W.L. Stephens built the pulpit. Pastor Moss purchased the drums and had the communion table build. Joyce Dorsey donated an organ and The Marietta Housing Authority provided heaters.  Services were held on Wednesday and Friday nights and on each Sunday.

Pastor Moss wanted the frosted windows changed. They were painted red and white which gives the checker board appearance.

From Pickens Progress, Smoky Hollow Church in need of repair 9/9/2010, Jeff Warren.

How Mamie Moss ended up leading a church in Pickens County when she lived in Marietta and had never seen the church or the community is an amazing story, one that I enjoyed hearing from Miss Mamie during my interviews of her and Joy Dorsey.

Mamie Moss had a reoccurring vision in which she saw a large group of people, unpainted houses, and people running up a hill. She prayed to the Lord for understanding. Later at a church gathering in Marietta she was invited to begin a home Bible Study in the Pickens County community of Smoky Hollow.  It was 1967 and she accepted the invitation. When she began to visit the Smoky Hollow community she was visiting near The Stand and she recognized that this was the place she had seen in her visions.

Knowing the Lord wanted more of her than just a Bible Study, Mamie Moss knew she needed to open a church and that the abandoned Tate Methodist Church was where it should be located. “The windows and doors were gone. It was in bad shape,” she recalled. Her first sermon was in January of 1971.

Pastor Moss served this church for seventeen years before moving to Kentucky. Joyce Dorsey over as pastor of the church in her absence. After seven years in Kentucky and eight years in Texas, Joy convinced Rev. Moss to return. Rev. Dorsey is now the assistant pastor.

Today the congregation is very small, with about five church members attending. “Most of the church members died or moved away to Atlanta,” Rev. Moss explained. She holds Sunday services on the first, third and fifth Sundays at noon.

This historic church is in desperate need of repair. To offer assistance or for more information call Rev. Moss at 706-301-9025. Donations can be made to the Miracle Fellowship Church account (#638261) at Jasper Banking Company.

Historic Tate Methodist Church 1887-

When Stephen C. Tate built the Tate Methodist Church in 1887, he also built a Methodist church for his black friends providing the land and the materials. The Methodist Conference from Atlanta sent a minister for many years to pastor this church. Some sources tell me it was known as the C.M.E. church – Colored Methodist Episcopal and others think it was A.M.E. – African Methodist Episcopal. Their opening ceremony was a little different but basically the same as the Baptist church.

Mr. Josh Tate and family attended the church along with the Temp Echols family, Monroe Dodd and family and Nora Buck and daughter. At one time the church grew and they had approximately 50 members.  Mr. McElroy, Mr. Monroe Dodd, Mr. Josh Tate and Mr. Temp Echols were stewards in this church.

They only had services on the third Sunday so on the second Sunday, they worshipped with the Methodists. This same pastor preached at a church in Canton on the other two Sundays.

The church had panes in the windows that were frosted and had little ripples in them. The membership dwindled and soon no one was attending church.

The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia by Stephen E. Griffeth.

In the 1940s the church closed as a Methodist congregation. The last pastor was Rev. Curtis from Adairsville. He also preached in Canton coming to Tate one a month for a second Sunday service. The conference encouraged him to move on but he insisted on continuing.  When he left the congregation closed the church.

The church stayed abandoned and locked up for at least a decade.  Stephen Griffeth estimated between fifteen and twenty years passed with the building empty of worshippers. Initially it was reopened by Annie Buck’s father, a Holiness minister.

Pilgrim Baptist Church,

Nelson, Ga.

In the year of 1910, Pilgrim Baptist Church was established under the leadership of Rev. Head. The first facility was destroyed by fire. The Georgia Marble Company donated the current building as a gift to the Pilgrim Baptist Church. The building was also used for Masonic Lodge Assembly’s and was the old Black school building. It had marble chalk boards and desk tops. And the stage had purple drapes.

Rev. A.V. Williamson was pastor of the church along with Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church until he recommended Rev. Henry Rogers.  Rev. Rogers served faithfully for 39 years. He took in 63 members, established a Baptist Training Union Study, an Usher Board, a Missionary Society and prayer meetings. In addition to ordaining deacons, two members were licensed and ordained to preach. They were Rev. Paul Lawson, Jr. and Rev. Paul Gidden. Improvements during Rev. Roger’s tenure including new furnace, painting the building and adding a new Baptismal pool.

Rev. Wofford Bailey was the minister from 1981 to 2002 followed by Rev. Barry McCall. Rev. McCall is now serving as Pastor Elect. Currently God has blessed us with Pastor John H. Brown and we have grown spiritually under his guidance. We thank God for the leadership of Rev. Brown and pray that God will continue to bless us as we continue to do his will as we go forward.

Pilgrim is located at 1775 Pickens Street in the Ball Ground side of Nelson. Pickens Street connects with Smokey Hollow Road and Old Highway 5 on the Tate side of Nelson.  Services are the second and fourth Sundays and begin at 11:30 a.m.

History courtesy of Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Friendship Baptist Church, Jasper, Ga.

In 1880 Black residents in Jasper organized a church and christened it Friendship Baptist Church. The first church services were held in a brush arbor where a crowd of older members and friends worshiped in true spirit and faith. We are told that they would spend nights praying fervently as the Holy Spirit would inspire them to convert souls to Christ.  It was there that the little church was founded.

Shortly thereafter a lot was bought by church member Mr. Will Simmonds for $20. A two- story frame building on the property was used as church and elementary school with a lodge hall on the second floor. A White pastor served during these years. However, his name is not known or was it found in church records, but he was remembered by older members. He baptized some of the first members including Mrs. Louisia McClure, mother of Addie Smith and Mr. Sam McClure.  Rev. Lloyd was also one of the earlier pastors.

In 1909 another lot was purchased from Mr. John McHan, just above the initial property. It is here where the members decided to build another church. Rev. G.B. Harden was a carpenter as well as the pastor. He built a nice frame building on lot #2 and the old building was used only for school purposes after this time.

Seven years later, this school was consolidated with the school at Tate. After a period of years the old church and the school building were torn down.  The church that Rev. Harden built was also torn down to make way for a new church facility. A new block church was built in 1962, Rev. Pinkard being the pastor.

In 1984, under the leadership of Rev. James W. Dargon, new additions were constructed as part of the original building. Renovations also included stained glass windows and bricking.

Rev. Russell T. Kennedy, Sr. was called to become the next pastor in 1989. Under his leadership carpeting and pew upholstery were purchased. Also Deacon Otis Morgan, Jr. was ordained into the ministry.

The pastor since 1992, Rev. R.S. Thomas has accepted the challenge and task of leading his flock through the religious, social, economic and educational changes that confront us in these times. We thank God for the leadership we have had in the past, and today, and pray that God will continue to bless us.  May we continue to do good for His kingdom and remain humble.

History courtesy of Friendship Baptist Church.

It was during a conversation with Rev. Charles Walker that he shared the special relationship between Jasper First Baptist and Friendship Baptist Church. On the Vanishing Georgia Web site, I had come across a photo of Rev. Walker, and two of his church members at a Vacation Bible School at Friendship Baptist Church in 1968. Rev. Dargon, pastor of Friendship is seen in the center of the photo. That would be two years after school integration. I asked how long First Baptist did a separate Bible School at Friendship. “Not long after that we decided that the Black children should come to Jasper First, after all we are all the same,” he replied.

Rev. Walker also told me that when Friendship Church needed to buy building materials at a sawmill in Gilmer County in 1962, he and his deacons worried that they might be cheated by the owner because Friendship was a Black church. He recalled that several deacons from First Baptist went with the Friendship deacons to Ellijay to be sure the process was fair.

Located on the southwest side of Jasper on Mineral Springs Street, church services are held second and fourth Sundays at 11:30 a.m.

References

Interviews of Mamie Moss and Joy Dorsey, 2009 by Dr. Kathleen Thompson

Interviews of Rev. Charles Walker, 2008 and 2009, by Dr. Kathleen Thompson

The Many Facets of Tate, Georgia, Stephen E. Griffeth, 1998

Pickens County, Georgia, Heritage, 1853-1995

A special thanks to Vivian Chapman and Robert McClure for providing church histories for Pilgrim and Friendship churches.

You many contact Dr. Thompson at 706-633-3865 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Comments, feedback and new information are welcome.