In the community of Newington in Screven County is a church that remains something of a mystery. The history is sketchy and we can only speculate as to the organization date. We do know that Middle Ground Baptist Church, constituted July 24, 1827, was the mother church of Cypress Pond Baptist Church, organized in 1867 by freed slaves, shortly after the Civil War. From Cypress Pond Baptist Church came Walker Grove Baptist, possibly organized in the early twentieth century. Research continues into this now abandoned church and text will be added as more information surfaces. There is a school associated with the church and similarly, little is known of it at this point.
We do know that Walker Grove church and school were part of the Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Association, domiciled in Guyton. The Association began in 1868, shortly after emancipation. The former slaves still could and did attend white churches but they were segregated, and they could not fully participate in the services. The history states that “One Sunday morning after regular church service at Goodwill Baptist Church in Sylvania, Ga. Bro. Inman E Bryant, Bro. March Kent, Bro. Raleigh Bryant. Bro. J. S. Scott and Bro. Oscar Grant acknowledged their call from God to preach the gospel. They approached Rev. Edenfield and Rev. McCall and asked them to ordain them as preachers of the gospel”.
The three pastors were now ordained and they began to organize African American churches in Screven, Bulloch and Effingham County, traveling by mule and wagon. For the first three years, they concentrated on getting black churches up and running. They then began to form an organization to assist the member churches with problems and issues of the day, and one of the major issues was the education of young people. There were no high schools for them and only a few of the churches had the one-room elementary schools that were beginning to emerge to serve the African Americans.
The name “Pilgrim” was chosen for the Association. The first moderator was Rev. Inman E. Bryant who served from 1871 – 1893. The first annual session was held in 1871. During Rev. Bryant’s administration, a high school was established with the name of The Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Normal and Industrial Institute. It was the only high school for blacks in Effingham County from 1889 – 1936. After serving the black community for 56 years, the school was closed in 1936, when Effingham County built a public training school for African Americans.
The above facts are from an association history by Wilbert Manor, Clerk and Historian.
We think it is important to understand how these little rural churches were formed. And we think it is very important to understand the role of the schools that were associated with many of them. Most of them are gone and, sadly, the Walker Grove School will soon join them. Most of the schools that are still with us were formed in the late 19th and early 20th century to serve the rural black communities, and they did so well into the 1930’s and 40’s and sometimes later. These schools were often the only access that African Americans had until “equalization schools” emerged in the 1950’s. The black communities did not have full access to local county supported schools until the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1965. The abandoned church you see here and the little schoolhouse that is almost gone have to be seen in that context. It is too late for the school, but perhaps the little church that served this community for so long can still be saved.
Almost Gone But Not Forgotten
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This is so beautiful. It needs to be restored as an important part of black Americans.
Thanks for the information on this church. I would like to visit and photograph it next weekend and am trying to figure out which direction the front of the church faces. The satellite map has it obscured by trees. It appears as if it faces NW. Is that correct? Also, is the church open or do I need to get permission from someone to enter?
We think it is more SW. Not sure if the church is open or not. The school is, although it is in bad shape.
Thanks for the info. I plan on stopping by this Sunday.
This is a beautiful church. Look at those pine planks.