This interesting church in the Harrington community was built just as the historic African-American neighborhoods of St. Simons were reaching their ebb. It’s a utilitarian example of the two-tower style, common among African-American congregations on the coast in an earlier time. The cinderblock structure, built sometime between 1950-1954, has unpainted sides, with the front being the only “finished” section. A more traditional structure, the circa 1920 Pentecostal Zion Church, stands behind this one.
Tag Archives: Endangered Culture of Coastal Georgia
Sam Ripley, who was born to Harry Ripley around 1900, built this house on a section of his father’s land in 1926. He used salvaged wood and lumber discarded from area sawmills. For many years he worked at the Whitland Saw Mill (no longer extant) so some of the lumber likely came from there. As was typical of African-Americans in Liberty County at the time, Ripley maintained a subsistence farm. In 1934, Liberty County counted 560 African-American farmers cultivating 23,000 acres of their own land.
Ripley retired from the sawmill in 1940 but continued to do odd jobs around Midway and Dorchester, all while maintaining his farm. He died in 1988. The property was sold in 1994 and was used as a bed and breakfast for a time. It doesn’t appear to be in use at this time, but the property is well-maintained and is still being used as a small farm. Please note that it is private property and can only be viewed or photographed from the road.
National Register of Historic Places
I drove down to Riceboro yesterday to see the wonderful work Jim Bacote (above, right) has done with Geechee Kunda and to check out his Gathering, an annual celebration of Geechee and Gullah folkways. Jim is passionate about preserving this history and it’s tangible. Geechee Kunda is the culmination of his lifelong fascination with this endangered way of life. I first met him a couple of years ago when he was still working on his museum and history center so I didn’t get to make any photographs. He invited me to come back and I’m so glad I finally got to see it yesterday.
The highlight for me was a performance by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters (not to be confused with the McIntosh County Shouters, who organized about a decade before the Geechee Gullah). This group of dedicated men and women share the ring shout with the world and aim for authenticity. They’re historic interpreters of the highest order and preserve a tradition that was thought to be extinct as recently as 1980. Historians believe the ring shout is the oldest surviving African performance tradition in North America. While “shouting” in the vocal sense is a part of the performance, linguist Lorenzo Dow Turner, who spent a lifetime researching the Gullah language and culture, suggested that the term came from the Afro-Arabic word saut. This is a reference to the forward-moving shuffle, during which the feet are not to cross, associated with pilgrimages to the Kabaa at Mecca.
It’s hard not to come away from a performance by the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters with a better understanding of a culture that, especially as white Southerners, we have kept at a distance at best or dismissed altogether at worst.
One thing you’ll quickly notice when you’re around the Shouters is their charisma. They’re very passionate about what they’re doing and you can feel it. You not only learn but you’re uplifted, as well.
In 2011, the Geechee Gullah Ring Shouters set the Guinness World Record for leading the largest recorded ring shout, during the “Word, Shout, Song” exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum in Washington, D. C.
Besides the world record ring shout, the group is also proud to have among their performers Mrs. Butler (above, right), who at 90 is the world’s oldest living ring shouter. She’s amazing.
At the end of the performance, a narrative of Emancipation is re-enacted and is quite powerful. If you couldn’t already tell, I was very moved by these living historians and would encourage anyone who has the opportunity to attend one of their events.
This house likely dates to the 1870s, but that is just a guess. Bobbie Spikes identified it as her grandparents’ home when I first published the images in 2012. Teresa LaRoche Riley, whose father grew up here as well, recently shared a photo of the house on Facebook and that gave me the encouragement I needed to consolidate all my photos into one post. It is likely beyond repair, but it’s a wonderful remnant of a lost generation in Coastal Georgia.
The house still retains its original kitchen.
An interior view indicates it was occupied as recently as 20-25 years ago.
William McKinley Walthour, Sr., founded the Union Brotherhood Society or “The Society” in March 1932 to help provide for the proper burial of Negro citizens. During this period of segregation and Jim Crow Laws, Negroes were uninsured and had to use homemade pine boxes to bury their loved ones. The organization collected dues of ten and twenty-five cents monthly from its members; enabling them to have death and health benefits. The Society with 34 members still exists in 2006 with death benefits of $140.00 and sickness benefits of $10.00. At funerals, the Society members dressed in black and white, wore badges and greeted each other as Brother and Sister. Anniversay celebrations, known as the “Society Turning Out,” had a worship program followed by fellowship, fun and games. The founding members were: William Walthour, Sr., Frank Baker, Willie Stevens, Joe Bowers, Wilhelmina Walthour, Beatrice Bowers, Gus Williams, Priscilla Maxwell, Rose Bell Roberts, Ben Maxwell, Sarah Jane Walthour, Joe Walthour, George Walthour Sr., William Brown, Rev. R.W. Monroe and Janie Stevens. Less than an acre of land was purchased and a building, structured similar to an old T-shaped church, was built by The Society members for their meetings and gatherings at this location in 1932. This monumment is a tribute to their unity, vision and community concern. Source: Historical marker placed in 2007 by the Liberty County Historical Society.
Such relics of the Jim Crow era are fading fast and are tangible evidence of a different world. It’s a shame to see this old building in such disrepair, but I’m glad Liberty County made the effort to mark this significant part of its history. (Though maps locate this at Midway, it’s a bit further inland).