On Sunday, Palmyra Missionary Baptist Church in the Sunbury community celebrated its 26th Annual Old Timey Day in honor of Black History Month.
A turn off the asphalt roads onto the sand-packed, ditch-saddled roads of Sunbury is like entering a time machine into the early 19th century. Framed by centuries old oak trees draped with Spanish moss, Old Seabrook School Road holds an important link to Liberty County’s past.
In Sunbury, life is simple and the people are always willing to share with one another. And the food, language, folkways and customs of their African ancestors is prevalent in many aspects. While Palmyra Missionary Baptist Church was established 144 years ago on land donated to the community, Old Timey Day commemorates more than 200 years of history and living culture preserved by the embodiment of the Geechee people, descendants of Captured Africans enslaved throughout coastal Georgia and Florida, as well as South Carolina and North Carolina, where descendants are called Gullah.
The day began with a one-mile walk from mother church Sunbury Missionary Baptist Church on Trade Hill Road to Palmyra Missionary Baptist Church. It sounded like the marching footsteps of a large army singing traditional Geechee songs.
When the mere group of five members led by Sister Daisy Blackmon and ranging in age from 10 to 75 made a right turn on to Old Seabrook School Road the acoustics of the oak canopy contained the melodious vocals and foot percussions that sounded as if they were invoking an African blessing upon the day’s event.
Once inside the sanctuary, the tone was one of reverence, remembrance, celebration and praise. Pastor Jabron Webster and Lady Millicent Webster, who displayed a family Bible with an 1847 wedding date, commenced Sunday School where he encouraged the lesson on faith and love.
He said he felt the purest and most enlightening experience ever in his life when he first preached at Palmyra over five years ago.
“I saw that a living history and culture which I had only heard and read about needed to be maintained. We embrace these Geechee traditions while moving forward with old teaching the young.”
With approximately 30 other members dressed in 19th century plantation attire and colorful African garb, 94-year-old the Rev. Robert Brown, pastor emeritus, sprinkled the service with his wisdom, humor, and $5 mathematics lessons.
Sister Rose Mullice gave a brief church history and encouraged the continuance of storytelling and cemetery preservation among the families present. “After we, the old folks, are gone who will know or call our names? There is an African proverb that says ‘As long as we call the ancestors’ names they will live forever.”
By the 11 o’clock hour the congregation swelled to nearly 60 people as the service transitioned into celebratory praise by the Old Timey Day Geechee Choir which consisted of seven old timers and keepers of the Geechee ways: Sis. Janie Foster, Sis. Blanche Osborne, Sis. Stella Harris, Deacon Norman Harris, Deacon Johnnie Williams, Bro. Sylvester Fuller, Bro. Larry Butler and Brown.
The musical selections included “Kum Ba Yah,” “Hold the Baby,” “Horse in the Valley,” “Nobody Knows da Troubles I Seen” and “Wade in the Water,” songs that harken to survival, togetherness, and freedom during the enslavement period.
Each song was instilled with handclapping and the rhythms of traditional African American Geechee percussive instrumentation including the syncopated beats, sounds and vibrations of the pounding board and stick and the electrifying washboard which ripped through the sensibilities of each individual in the sanctuary.
The guest speaker, Pastor Matthew Southall Brown Jr. of First Union Baptist Church in Savannah, wrapped up the praise and worship segment by giving a thought-provoking short sermon titled “Where Do We Go from Here?”
Afterward, thanks to the down-home cooking of Venus Fuller and others, the wafting aroma Geechee cuisine enticed all who were present toward the kitchen where one could heap a to-go plate with such delicacies as hoppin’ john, black-eyed peas with ham hocks, slow-baked glazed pig feet, fresh collard greens, sweet corn, fried fish, fried chicken, baked turkey wings, cornbread, chitlins (not chitterlings), sweet potato soufflé, I’sh potato salad, pound cake, brownie, and a large cup of fresh homemade lemonade.
The annual Old Timey Day at Palmyra Missionary Baptist Church takes place on the fourth Sunday each February. Weekly worship services are held the first, second and fourth Sundays.
Glass-Hill, executive director of the Susie King Taylor Women’s Institute and Ecology Center in Midway, is a member of The Sankofa African American Heritage Trail of East Liberty County. For more information, visit www.susiekingtaylorinstitute.org or call 912-884-3605.