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Briar Bay Praise House is part of history
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Nestled in Briar Bay at the intersection of Sandy Run and Berrington Ferry roads is a small wooden building known as the Praise House. Many longtime Riceboro residents have been attending services there for years. The Praise House was originally a one-room wooden structure, likely built decades before the Civil War. Not many records exist; most of the Praise House’s history has been passed down in the form of stories from one generation to the next.
The building has long been a gathering place for Riceboro’s African-American families. Community members come together to learn, share their hopes and celebrate different occasions. Thanks to the worships center’s frequent use by churches, groups and families, the Praise House has become a preserved treasure for future generations. Lifelong Liberty County resident Sallie Richardson said she knows there were other praise houses in the county, but most were razed or have deteriorated over time.
The house is often used for group meetings, prayer services, dinners and annual events. Every New Year’s Eve, the First African Missionary Baptist Church hosts its annual crop supper and watch night service in the wooden structure. According to a written historical account read at this year’s service by Doris Barrett, the watch night service began more than 100 years ago and was organized by the deacons of First African Baptist. On watch night, locals thank God for guiding them through the old year and allowing them to see a new one. Attendees pray, sing and enjoy fellowship until daylight.
The crop supper is prepared in large cast iron pots by several women in the community. The meal includes greens, vegetables and rice harvested from local gardens and fields, and pork raised in the area. Hundreds usually show up for the meal, packing the Praise House and the land surrounding it.
Long before today’s families and church members used the Praise House for meetings and meals, it served as a place for slaves to worship. According Robert Groover’s book, “Sweet Land of Liberty,” freed black men and slaves preached at designated “stands,” or praise houses, and arbors on the coastal plantations. Riceboro’s Praise House may have been one such “stand.”
Another author, the Rev. Charles C. Jones, refers to praise houses in his writing as “little buildings or bush arbors that the slaves had constructed for their own use.”
The Praise House and the half acre of land it stands on were deeded to the First African Baptist Church in 1935 by the Liberty County Board of Education. The BoE acquired the land in 1902 when it was donated by the Hilton and Dodge Lumber Company.
The Praise House was used as an elementary school for black students for many years. A block addition was built to accommodate the large crowds that gather for services today. A small covered kitchen and brick fireplace recently were added to help church members and families prepare and share meals in the historic building for many decades to come.
Yvonne Woods and Deacon Randolph Jones Sr. contributed to this story.
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