For a few years following emancipation and the end of the Civil War, confusion reigned across the South. It took a few years for the black community to begin to form their own churches separate from the whites. Thus any black church congregations formed in the 1870’s are among the very first to be organized. The first church likely was a very simple structure, but it served the community well until the church you see above was built in 1911. Over the years many improvements and upgrades were added but the bones are still there along with the architectural features.
The little unpainted, one room school you see above to the right of the church was likely built in the early 1900’s. There are only a handful of these old structures left but they are very historically significant. After the war, African Americans, were very anxious and determined to obtain education for their children. As enslaved people, they were not allowed to read and write and the struggle for access to education began a long journey that is significant in southern history and the history of our nation. By the turn of the century, these little church sponsored one room schools were common across Georgia.
The county would pay the teacher’s salary and provide older text books but that was usually the extent of it. The local community had to do the rest. Later, better schools such as the Rosenwald schools began to appear in the 1920’s but for many rural black children, the one room schools were the only access they had to education since they were not allowed to use the school bus system. Separate but equal facilities were ruled unconstitutional in the 1950’s but it was not until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that the system really began to change. If you are aware of any of these church sponsored schools that are still standing, please let us know.
Sandy Grove AME has been inactive for several years now but it is one of the older African American congregations in Georgia. The church history states that the church was first organized in a Brush Arbor and then associated with Johnson Methodist until they acquired some land from C. F. Johnson for $20 in 1875. It was likely the Johnson church referred to is Johnson Methodist, a white church that is still active. The Johnson family was very prominent in Warren County. The patriarch of the family was William Johnson, a Revolutionary War veteran who first planted roots in Warren County in 1792. A 1974 History of Warren County states that “Since its beginning, the church has had 39 pastors, 19 presiding elders, and eight bishops. A large number of the members of this church have moved to other parts of the country”.
What was once a vibrant church in a vibrant community has withered away over the years. Partly because rural Georgia became less agricultural over the years, but also because African Americans began to relocate as part of the Great Migration. Between 1916 and 1970, six million African Americans moved out of the rural Southern United States to the urban Northeast, Midwest and West.
It is sad that this noble structure is now abandoned and in eminent danger. Notice the roof of the church has now been seriously compromised. If the roof had been covered with tin instead of composite shingles, she would be good for many more years. Water is the ultimate enemy and we have seen this story play out again and again. Water damage ultimately leads to structural failure and collapse. If tin had not emerged as an affordable roofing alternative in the late 18th century, few rural structures would still be standing. The combination of Georgia Heart Pine and Tin is a good one. We still expect to see the continuing, inevitable decay and slow collapse of the church and school. But, we are pleased that we have been successful in accomplishing our mission to photograph and permanently document these two relics insuring that future generations will have the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate them.
Be sure to click and scroll on the composite photos below for more photographs and history of this historic structure and cemetery. In this graveyard are buried people born into slavery who had no last name until 1865 and could not read or write. The little schoolhouse was built and supported for their children and grandchildren. There are veterans here of WWl and WWII. Many souls were saved and hymns sung on this spot for over 140 years. She is almost gone but not forgotten.
In this closer up view of the Sandy Grove structure, we see that, though not revealed in the initial photo, this old structure is heavily damaged. Its year’s long abandonment and lack of maintenance is taking quite a toll. The roof damage is wide-spread and significant. The visible gothic windows appear be collapsing. The underbrush crowds the structure and allows vines and vegetation to enter the interior spaces in many places. Sandy Grove church is in danger of collapse.
Here we see that the windows in fact are quite damaged. Broken glass panes are allowing the rain to enter. We see that one of the pews is clearly open to rain and wind. The window frames themselves are rotting.
This first interior shot is taken from the chancel’s left side toward the church’s west entryway and we get a view of the north wall as well. The collapsing, hanging ceiling tiles reflect significant roof leaks. The pews, floors and carpet are constantly subject to water damage. This old sanctuary is in sad shape.
This view from the rear of the sanctuary toward the north wall and chancel, pulpit and apse area reveals further ceiling and roof damage. As we said in the introduction, If the roof had been covered by tin rather than cheaper, composite shingles, Sandy Grove may have been protected and still functioning in place today. The abandonment of the community and church during the Great Migration led Sandy Grove down an inevitable path to destruction. There is no turning back at this point.
From our experience, it is remarkable that these pews still remain in place within the sanctuary. Items of value like these and the chairs, pillars, chancel balusters, even the Pulpit, usually fall prey to thievery. We think these remain in place because the church is in such a rural and hardto- find place. What a shame.
This is a photo of the remains of the old school house that sits to the right side of the church and is surrounded by trees, vines and shrubs. It is almost obscured from view and no longer useful. Looking at what remains today of the school building, we find it hard to believe this small shack served the schooling needs of the children of the Sandy Grove church and Community for much of the 20th century. However, we are told that up until mid-century it was in use. In that era of “Separate But Equal” in Georgia, the “Equal” element was seldom found.
This is the view after entering the room and facing the back wall with its completely boarded up window. The former school room is now filled with old pews, broken window frames, a screen door, chairs, a teachers lectern(ancient pulpit?) and other detritus left behind. Even though it is junked up, you can see how the room could have adequately served with the teacher at the center of the back wall, standing behind the lecturn looking out at the students. Looking up to the right ceiling we see the flu for the wood burning stove that warmed the room during cold weather. Pretty primitive, yet it worked for the purpose of teaching reading, writing and arithmic, lessons withheld from most black children of that era.
This is another view from the entry door but looking to the left. Please note that the wooden ceiling and all the walls are made of heart pine. We also see that there is little evidence of leakage on the floors and walls while the ceiling appears to be watertight as well. This is in sharp contrast to the terrible water damage we saw in the Sandy Grove sanctuary. How can this rough old building have avoided the fate of the church building? The answer is that the school had been provided with a tin roof. You may have noticed when looking at the first photo of the school that it had a rusty but sound old tin roof. Also a stabilizing factor at the school is the fact that all the wooden elements in the building were made of water resistant, heart pine.
Anna/Ann Johnson was born October, 1853. She married Adolphus English on November 24, 1872 in Warren County, Georgia. The 1910 census shows she had 16 children with 10 still living at that time. Her occupation was farmer and she could not read or write. She died May 31, 1913.
Doll/Adolphus English was born ca 1850. He may have been the slave of Thomas English who in the 1860 Warren County slave schedule had a male slave the right age to be Adolphus. The 1880 census shows Adolphus, age 33, Annie, age 25 and children ages 3, 5, and 7. The 1910 census shows he could not read or write. He died November 5, 1914. David English, the son of Adolphus and Ann, died in 1966 in Philadelphia. Another son Rev. Cicero C. English (1878-1957) lived in Greene County and was a farmer and school teacher according to his WWI draft registration.
Henry Dawson’s marker shows he was born in 1871 and died June 24, 1932. His death certificate states he died June 25, 1933 at the age of 60. His wife was Lena Rivers Dawson (1873-1958) and she is also buried at Sandy Grove. His father was Henry Dawson and his mother was Francis Sims Dawson. His sister, Lula Dawson, married Solomon Shelton and she died in Philadelphia in 1946.
This is the marker for Dawson Rivers, born 1838, died July 8, 1924 and Fannie/Frances Aldridge Rivers, born 1849, died June 12, 1932. The 1870 Warren County census shows Dawson, age 22, Mulatto; Francis, age 18, Mulatto; and John, age 5 months, Mulatto. The 1910 Glascock County census shows Fannie had given birth to 14 children and 12 were still living at that time. The 1877-1882 records show Dawson Rivers paid a one dollar poll tax and he worked for M W. Aldred. Dawson’s name shows up in six records for paying the poll tax. By 1930, Fannie Rivers was a widow, age 80, living with two of her daughters.
J B Johnson was born October, 1911 and died August 4, 1941. The 1930 Warren County census lists Cindy Johnson, age 39; J. B. Johnson, age 16, laborer, able to read and write; Jessie, age 15. The 1940 Warren County census shows Cindy Johnson, Widow, age 49, Laundress; J. B. Johnson, age 28, finished second grade, Auto Mechanic in a repair shop, worked 60 hours week prior to census; Jessie, age 26, drives saw mill truck.
Samuel Howard was born April 1, 1915 and died May 21, 1978. He registered for the draft October 16, 1940 in Glascock County. His registration papers show he was 5’10’’ tall and weighed 154 lbs. He enlisted in the army June 27, 1941 at Fort Benning. His father was William/Willie Howard and his mother was Louise/Lou Walker Howard. The 1910 census shows Willie and Lou had 8 children, 7 living in 1910. Neither Willie nor Lou could read or write. Louise Walker Howard (1876-1942) and Willie Howard (1874-1953) are both buried at Sandy Grove AME Church cemetery.
David Burnett, Sr. was born July 15, 1923 and died August 6, 1998. He had a grammar school education and enlisted in the army at Fort Benning, Georgia on February 13, 1943. He was released from duty May 27, 1943. His draft registration card, June 30, 1942, age 18, shows his mother was Lola Mae Burnett. At the time he was doing farm work for Mr. Harris Johnson. It lists his height as 5’ 8” and weight as 136lbs. His father was Richard Burnett.
Richard Allen Burnett was born April 1, 1917 and died October 15, 1982. He was a brother of David Burnett, Sr. shown above. Richard registered for the draft on October 16, 1940. He was 23 years old, 5’6” tall, 165 lbs. He enlisted in the army August 14, 1941 at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was admitted to the hospital in October, 1942 and again in August 1943. He was admitted the second time for a non-battle injury in the line of duty and involved a motorcycle. He was released from service November 13, 1945.
Bennie J. Burnett was born March 20, 1919 and died June 21, 1945. He enlisted in the army June 26, 1941 at Fort Benning, Georgia. He had finished one year of high school and was 5’11” and weighed 144 lbs. During WWII he served as a Pvt. In Company A, 97th Engineer Regt. His mother was Dissie or Dysie Mitchell Burnett His father was John H. Burnett who is also buried at Sandy Grove cemetery. Bennie was admitted to the hospital in July, 1944 from disease that occurred in the line of duty. He was dismissed from duty after 3 years and 5 months of service. He was 27 years old when he died of tuberculosis in a veteran’s hospital in Ashville, North Carolina. The three Burnetts mentioned here were all grandchildren of Washington Burnett and America Johnson Burnett.
Willie Rivers was born December 25, 1893 and died November 2, 1935. He served in World War I with the 157 Depot Brigade, 13 Receiving Battn., 50th Company. He was inducted into service October 13, 1917 and discharged January 25, 1919. He was the son of Dawson and Fannie Rivers mentioned earlier. He is listed in the 1930 census, Glascock County, as William P. Rivers, age 37 with his wife Siddie L. Rivers, age 28 and two children.
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