Soapstone Baptist Church

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History

History of Liberia

While Native Americans have lived in the area for tens of thousands of years, Euro-Americans began settling the Upstate in the late 18th century. Many locally-prominent white landowning families owned slaves, who worked the farms, mills, and shops in the area. Documented names include Aunt Katie, Emerson, and James (in northern Greenville County). After 1865, white landowners needed labor for their fields, and freed slaves needed money and land, and so many white landowners traded land for black labor. In this way, Liberia was established and named after the liberated black


African colony

Off the main valley of the Oolenoy, Liberia prospered (in 1870, the Pumpkintown Census District [including Liberia] was approximately 28% Black), as hundreds of freed slaves gathered with family and friends in a protected area, away from white oversight. Community founders such as Aunt Katie Owens, Emerson Kemp, and James McJunkin (Greenville County) and their families established a school, started Soapstone Church (founded by McJunkin), and built the Liberia Community. Over decades, however, as Reconstruction protections faded during the Jim Crow era in the late nineteenth century, many blacks left for better economic opportunities, especially in the factories up North. Racism and repression drove other blacks from the area, and tuberculosis and the Great Depression of the early twentieth century drove still others away. Less than 40 black residents remained in the Liberia area by 1950.

In April 1967, local arsonists burned the old Soapstone Baptist Church and a nearby vacant home, but both white neighbors and black residents contributed time, labor, money, and love to rebuild the church and (more recently) the fellowship hall. Today, the church holds monthly fish fries to support the church and community.

For further information on the community’s history, see Liberia, South Carolina: an African American Appalachian Community, by John M. Coggeshall (University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

 


For more information contact
Mable Clarke
296 Liberia Road
Pickens, SC  29671

(864) 414-8470

 
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