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
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
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).