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Sunbury Missionary Baptist celebrates 150 years

POSTED: October 24, 2016 8:30 p.m.
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Celebrants unveil the historical marker highlighting the legacy of Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church.

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The historic Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church, 512 Trade Hill Road, Midway celebrated its 150th anniversary on Sunday, Oct. 16.

To commemorate its 150th year the church unveiled and dedicated a historical marker on the church grounds.

The church was a part of the original Sunbury Baptist Church, organized in 1806 on land donated by the Rev. O. Screven. This church was almost a duplicate of the Historic Midway Congregational Church. There was a gallery for slaves as there were more blacks belonging to the church than whites.

In 1832, the Sunbury Baptist Church added a Sabbath school for whites and a Sabbath school for blacks. Joseph Maxwell, a land owner on Colonel’s Island, served as superintendent with nine teachers, seven women, two men.

The Rev. Charles C. Jones, a Presbyterian minister published "A Catechism for Colored Persons," a 108 page manual containing Christian doctrine and practice in 1834. A census of attendance taken in 1846 by Jones documented 161 Slaves, who were original members of the original Sunbury Baptist Church.

In 1863, services were disrupted by the Civil War. The Sunbury Church building was burned by Gen. Sherman’s troops in November 1864 as a signal to the federal cavalry on Bryan Neck that the town was secured. The church was burned because it was the only building in Sunbury that was not being used as a dwelling.

In June 1866, many individuals, born both free and slave, organized the Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church near the site of the original Sunbury Baptist Church. The Rev. Frank Harris assisted by the Rev. Andrew Neal established the church with about 40 members. Lumber to build the edifice was brought from Belfast in Bryan County by boat. Faithful men and women labored to build a church of their own. In it, they gladly celebrated their personal freedom and their religious freedom.

Services continued at this church until around 1918, when the frame building of the church was torn down board by board. It was moved to the nearby Trade Hill community. The church was rebuilt on land purchased from the renowned Richard and Georgia Ann Delegal family who had amassed a large parcel of land as freed slaves. Under the leadership of the Rev. Henry Segar, Sunbury MBC had moved to higher ground and closer to the community of people it served. This wood frame building stood proudly until 1974. Then the membership banded together and erected a brick structure. Pastor C. S. Johnson presided over the dedicatory services on Nov. 10, 1974. He served the Sunbury church family for 17 years. The present pastor is the Rev. Moses Blackman.

Sponsored by the Liberty County Historical Society, the marker placement was coordinated by county commission Chairman Donald Lovette. He began the ceremony with a synopsis of the African American history of Sunbury and the slave descendants who still live in the Trade Hill community.

State Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, said, "The patriots should never be forgotten. Even as we stand here we can feel their presence right now. Don’t ever stop calling their names. We appreciate the thoughtfulness of the Liberty County Historical Society for the marker." Sunbury senior members Dea. Henry Wilson and Sis. Inez Fuller Stevens both gave thanks for the marker.

Blackman closed by saying, "Thank you for not forgetting about us."

Also taking part in the unveiling were the Rev. and Mrs. Moses Blackman and Martha Alvin, anniversary chairwoman. To help Sunbury celebrate the were members and friends of Palmyra Baptist, Thebes AME, Beech Hill Baptist, Riceboro Baptist and a host of other area churches.

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