Black History: The way we were

Published 9:14 am Thursday, March 11, 2010

RICH SQUARE — Memories are important to hold and share.

Recently, a local church recognized Black History month by displaying historical items.

From paintings of old buildings to earthen jars and offering baskets, memorabilia from Rich Square’s African-American history were on display at First Baptist Church Rich Square during the month of February.

“I’m proud I am a black American,” said Associate Minister Rev. Bernice Scott who came up with the idea to display the artifacts as a part of the church’s Black History program.

Scott along with the church’s Christian Board of Education and Trustee Board collaborated on the project. Pastor W.C. Clark suggested a theme of “The Way We Were.”

Along with the 30-plus artifacts that were on display, profiles of black leaders, church programs and other literature marking the history and struggles of African-Americans lined the wall.

“We’re trying to let our heritage be in the minds of our children,” she said. “It wasn’t always you could sit where you wanted to sit.”

Scott pointed to handmade “whites” and “colored” signs that would have been used to segregate the races decades ago.

“Thank God those signs have been taken down and we now live in a more harmonious way,” she said.

Scott had her own history on display with a photo of her grandmother, Elizabeth Manley Boyce, and earthenware jars that once held wine made by Scott’s grandfather.

Deaconess Gracie Keemer provided her own paintings of old buildings, including a smokehouse.

The church itself stands as a testament to black history in the area. Built in the 1800s, First Baptist Church Rich Square has always been an African-American church despite in being located in a historically white neighborhood. Under the early leadership of Reverend Dr. P.A. Bishop, Scott said the church was known as a “forward-thinking” membership with Bishop’s strong belief in education.

On any given day, items from the church’s history can be found in the History Room, including robes used during funerals, a copy of the church’s deed and books holding the obituaries of late members.

Some artifacts from that room were placed on display during Black History month. Old offering baskets still in prime condition were showcased along with a Book of Common Prayer from the 1940s and a hymnal book from the 1950s which were contributed by Lilly Willis-Mason, one of the newest members of the church.

Mason, who joined the church two years ago, told her granddaughter who lives in Virginia about the historical items on display. Her granddaughter then shared the story with her classmates.

“They’re interesting,” Mason said about the artifacts.

Deacon Chairman Raymond Bowser agreed the items were of important interest.

“I was raised up in this church,” he said. “It feels good to celebrate (black history this way). It brings back a lot of memories.”