Sandy Grove AME and School

Warren County
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Org 1875
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Photography by John Kirkland

One of the few early rural African American schools still standing

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.

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