In July 1893 delegates and members of vocal classes established by William Jackson “Uncle Billy” Royal assembled at Irwin Institute to organize the Royal Singing Convention. From 1893 until 1912 the Convention met in Irwin and surrounding counties in churches of different denominations or in school houses. In 1912 a huge tent was purchased to accommodate the large number of people attending. In 1919 the people of Mystic established a fund to build a tabernacle to serve as a permanent home for the convention. The tabernacle was erected on this site in time to house the 1920 session. Changes in society and advancements in technology brought an end to the Royal Convention after meeting continuously each July for 85 years. The final session was held in 1977. The tabernacle was razed in 1982. [The New Georgia Encyclopedia notes that the first documented gospel singing convention in Georgia was founded as the South Georgia Singing Convention by Uncle Billy Royal in 1875, prior to the convention profiled here].
As many of the old timers were passing on, the first commemoration of this special place was the placement of a granite marker by Uncle Billy’s grandchildren in 1953. It’s located at the entrance to the new memorial.
This memorial reproduces the plan of the original tabernacle at full size. A low brick perimeter wall supported wooden posts which held up a massive roof. Today granite cubes indicate where those posts were located. The singer’s stages is recreated with the monument to “Uncle Billy”. At its edge, permanent memorials are dedicated to friends and loved ones or recall precious memories, favorite hymns and treasured Bible verses. It was dedicated in 1991 after much work by the Royal Singing Convention Association. The Board of Trustees included: Charles C. Royal, Jr., President; Dorothy Royal Grimsley, Vice President; Helen Day Spacek, Secretary; Ralph W. Sims, Treasurer; and board members Eloise Royal Luke, Michael F. Royal, and Jacqueline E. Turner. Stanford Anderson, a nationally-known architect and professor at MIT was responsible for the design.
The memorial is located next to the historic Mystic Baptist Churh on Highway 32 in Mystic. It’s an open air memorial and therefore always open to the public. There is no admission charge.
Famed sculptor Marshall Daugherty, who created the John Wesley Monument in Savannah’s Reynolds Square, completed this bust of Uncle Billy Royal in 1953. Following are archival photos from the memorial.
This is a view of the tabernacle tent in 1916. It was used from 1912 until 1919.
This photo from 1953 shows the tabernacle which was first used in 1920.
William Jackson “Uncle Billy” Royal (16 April 1850-24 May 1931) – Founder and 1st President of the Convention.
James A. “Uncle Jimmie” Royal – 2nd President of the Convention, 1931-1950. Son of William Jackson Royal.
Erston B. Royal – 3rd and last President of the Convention, 1950-1977. Grandson of William Jackson Royal.