The photo you see above is that of the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, built in 1928, and the little parochial school next door, built in 1901. Both were founded by Deaconess Anna Alexander, consecrated in 1907 as the only African American deacon in the Episcopal denomination. Her headstone is in the foreground above. Her story is one of dedication, service and determination to serve her coastal community of Pennick, located near St. Simons Island. The schoolhouse served as both school and church in the early 1900s as well as living quarters for Deaconess Alexander who lived on the premises. The school has long been closed but the church is still active.
Anna was born in 1865 to parents who had been enslaved on the infamous Butler Island Plantation, across the river from Darien. Anna’s mother, Daphne, was a mulatto whose biological father was the white plantation manager, Roswell King, Jr. who later founded the town of Roswell, Georgia. Her father James, was one of the few slaves who had been allowed to receive some education and became the personal assistant of plantation owner, Pierce Butler. Daphne and James Alexander had eleven children and passed on their passion for education and communal responsibility to all of them. Many were active in the Darien community and especially so at the St. Cyprian Episcopal Church.
Anna, raised in The Episcopal Church, found the public education available to her in Glynn County, Georgia, substandard. She became a teacher at the parochial school attached to St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Darien that her sister, Mary Alexander Mann, had founded. After the Civil War, the school was virtually the only access to education for local African Americans. Anna’s base of operations for most of her life was the poor, rural community of Pennick, not far away in Glynn County. In 1894 she prompted the founding of an Episcopal mission, The Church of the Good Shepherd.
The school is particularly significant. There are only a handful of these old African American church-sponsored school structures left in Georgia, but they are historically important. After the Civil War, emancipated African Americans, who had not been allowed to read or write, were determined to obtain education for their children. Their struggle for access to education in pursuit of a better life, began a long journey that is significant in southern history, and the history of our nation. This school began as one of those one room schools. Another room was added at a later date. This older building then served as both the Good Shepherd Church as well as an onsite residence for Deaconess Alexander.
In 1998, Anna was named a Saint of Georgia by the Diocese of Georgia, affirming the deep impact she and her school had on her community. Her service to the residents of the Pennick community and the education of their children is a large part of coastal Georgia’s African American history. The Good Shepherd school was recently placed on the Georgia Trust Places in Peril listing for 2022. We are grateful to the diocese of Savannah for their stewardship of this important part of Georgia history that can now be passed on to future generations.
As you saw in the first photo of the school building and the lovely church, the school presents as a worn out unpainted, 120 year structure in poor condition. In this photo we have entered the interior and are viewing a close up of two old desks. These desks have wooden seats that rest on a cast iron pedestal. The desks themselves rest on elaborate cast iron feet. The desk tops can be lifted open and provide a place to store books and other items. These expensive desks and other furnishings were probably “borrowed” by Deaconess Alexander from the nearby white schools.
In this photo we are looking toward a step-up chancel and door. Also seen is a foot pump organ, and a piano in front of the chalk board to the left. The door could have opened onto a stair leading up to Anna’s tiny living quarters on the second floor.
In this tight view we can see that the walls and floors are all long leaf pine. This use of heart pine as the primary building material is seen throughout both the school and church. When they were built, heart pine was readily available in this area… which at one time was one of the wealthiest towns in Georgia and the home of vast acres of this wealth-producing lumber.
In this photo, our view of the lovely heart pine is enlarged and the whole room suffused in its warm glow.
The school was originally a one room log structure, as you can see here. Later a second classroom was added as well as living quarters for Deaconess Alexander.
We have moved from photos of the School to look into photos of the church. This shot is of the cornerstone of Good Shepherd Episcopal. As you see, the pillars and shiplap are in good condition and reflect the caring and loving stewardship of the community.
The at-the-ready-presence of collection plates and baptismal are evidence that this is an active congregation.
This is a view of the north wall toward the eastern corner of the chancel. Rather than the gothic windows that we often see and were common in the early 20th century, the windows and frames at Good Shepherd are all Roman as we see here.
Here we are looking from the pulpit down the center aisle. The sanctuary here is basked in the warm glow of the heart pine floors, side walls and rear wall.
Here is view of the chancel, pulpit and Pennant. Many sermons have been delivered here over the past years.... almost a century now.
This is a striking photo of almost the entire sanctuary. Here we see how the ceiling and roof architectural elements provide a decorative, breathtaking, cathedral-like atmosphere within her walls.
What a beautiful headstone and tribute to Deaconess Alexander, honoring a lifetime of service to this rural community. The placement of the headstone in front of the old 1901 structure is particularly appropriate.
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