Halifax Church Rings With History
Posted March 7, 1999 6:00 a.m. EST
HALIFAX — There is a church off Highway 301 in Halifax County most passers-by never notice.
Many town residents think the church should be torn down. Another group thinks the church is a part of black history and needs to be preserved.
"It's about the first thing you see when you come to Halifax, and I didn't want it torn down," Nellie Greene said.
The AME Church in Historic Halifax has no parishioners now; no Sunday music; no prayer meeting. The weathered building does have a story. It began in 1884.
"This is the oldest surviving African-American structure that we have in the town that was built by the African-American community for its own use," said Richard Clark, Halifax restoration director.
In the post-Civil War era, emancipated slaves headed north looking for work, a home and a community. Twenty-five hundred of the freedmen settled in Halifax County. They came with skills.
"They were masons, they were woodworkers, they were carpenters, they were furniture makers," Clark said.
They helped build Historic Halifax -- the Clerk of Court's office, the town jail, the Sallie-Billie Plantation House. And, they built a community place of their own -- the AME Church, which also housed a private school.
Greene says, "They should be recognized. I wanted people to know about them."
Greene is helping the Historical Halifax Restoration Association, which purchased the church last year.
The group has raised $60,000, about half of what is needed to restore it to its 1884 condition. The association is looking for help. Not just money but also knowledge.
"If we could get some photographs of an early wedding or something like that that was held here at this church, we could examine that, and maybe just a corner would reveal to us what we need to know," Clark says.
The chimney will go. It's not original. The balcony will stay. Much of the rest they must learn.
Restorationists say there is quality craftsmanship under warped boards and faded paint -- quality that can speak volumes to new generations about the struggle and the strength that helped create a community.
Greene held yard sales for nearly 12 years trying to keep the AME church standing. Her church purchased and had been using the building for a decade.
Organizers are planning a fund raiser for the restoration project which is expected to take two years.