This historic African-American congregation dates to 1885. Reverend Andrew Wilkerson was the first pastor.
Tag Archives: South Georgia African-American History & Culture
This historic African-American church was organized in 1892. It was re-established in 1954 by Reverend A. Goram. Deacons at the time of re-establishment were L. J. Robinson, H. Geter, Sr., C. H. Gillis, Jr., S. E. Chapman, J. A. Williams, and W. B. Bennett. Trustees were Rufus Mincey, Jessie Dixon, Charlie Little, and Jim Nesbit.
As I was driving through Sylvester with my parents recently I turned on a side street and this delightful home immediately caught my eye. I got shots of all the other houses I was interested in and couldn’t wait to take a closer look at this one. Moreover, I was surprised I’d never noticed it before.
It wasn’t easy tracking down information, but my father recalled having seen a fascinating story on the Albany news about a gentleman who was working on a community garden in Sylvester that included a banana farm. He thought, just perhaps, this could be his home.
I’m always excited to find a new art environment and this one was special. As I approached the house, I felt it wasn’t the work of a traditional folk artist, but rather that of a skilled and trained professional. I also knew the creator was sharing a vision. The images depicted on the house blend Native American and African iconography and seem to pay tribute to displaced and endangered peoples.
After a bit of research I discovered that it was, in fact, the home of the gentleman my father had suggested. His name is Sam X White, and he’s known by many as The Gourdmaster Sam X, for his masterpieces of gourd art. But Sam is a Renaissance man. He’s a community activist, art educator, supporter of 4-H, and the man behind Sylvester’s Village Community Garden. He’s an ambassador for so much more than art and I hope his neighbors love his work as much as I do. I hope to meet him in the future.
This church doesn’t appear to be in use at the present time, perhaps due to damage to the grounds by Hurricane Michael. Though I’ve not located any history for the congregation, I did discover this 1970 photograph by the late Paul Kwilecki.
Very little history can be found regarding this extraordinary vernacular church, which I first learned of through Historic Rural Churches of Georgia. My presumption was that it served an African-American congregation, largely due to the similarity of its architecture to other examples, and this has been confirmed through the index of a rare book by Paul Kwilecki, thanks to Wenda Gaile Bailey.
Tax records date the structure to 1904, but again, this may not be accurate. The style is a vernacular interpretation of one common around the turn of the last century, particularly among African-American congregations.
It has been noted that the congregation dates to 1836, but this is highly unlikely for an African-American congregation, considering such spaces were not legal in antebellum Georgia.
I personally believe the congregation served laborers in the turpentine industry.
The late photographer Paul Kwilecki, a native of Decatur County who photographed the church in 1982, notes that it was moved to its present location circa 1952 to save it from inundation of waters brought by the construction of the Jim Woodruff Dam, a few miles to the southwest on Lake Seminole at the Georgia-Florida line.
A newer church is located on the same property, but there is no sign indicating the name of the congregation.
I hope by publishing these photographs, I will encourage someone who knows the history to share it so I can confirm questions about this critically important and critically endangered church.
In 2013, when I was documenting all the Crawfordite churches in Southeast Georgia, I happened upon a little church and cemetery on my way to Sardis. The church I stopped at, Bethel Methodist, was historic in its own right. It’s a white congregation, but there is a small African-American cemetery adjacent to it. It was there that I met this gentleman, who drove up in a new Cadillac. He was an old-timer, he said, and if I recall was about 80. He shared a bit of the history of why the African-American cemetery was located beside the white church, but unfortunately, I lost that information. He didn’t mind his photograph being made and when asked his name, for documentary purposes, he said to just call him ‘Champion for Christ’, no names otherwise.
I’ve not been able to locate any history of Walker Grove Church, but it is an important landmark of African-American religious architecture and was obviously integral to its community since. A school was located on the same property.
Board walls were paneled and sheet rock and ceiling tiles added at some point in the congregation’s history. There is no air conditioning and since I didn’t locate a chimney I presume there was a flue for a pot-bellied stove somewhere.
A baptismal is located beside the church.
This style was very common among African-American congregations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and I believe the church dates to the early 1900s-1910s.
It was common practice in many African-American communities in early 20th century Georgia for churches to construct schools. This was due to the fact that the state was notoriously negligent in the construction and upkeep of schools for black students. The Rosenwald Foundation and the American Missionary Association were two outside concerns that contributed to the cause of African-American education, but I haven’t been able to link either group to Walker Grove and therefore believe that it was built by the members of Walker Grove Baptist Church. It’s located on the same property. I believe this was built in the 1910s or 1920s.
This is about as good a view as can be had of this shotgun house in northwestern Wayne County. It’s located in the vicinity of Tetlow, which still exists on the map and in a nearby road name, but seems lost to history otherwise. Because there are the remains of several nearly identical shotgun houses at the site, I presume this was a turpentine camp at one time. The area in which its located was heavily involved in the naval stores and timber industries throughout much of the twentieth century; the camp was likely abandoned by the 1960s.