When settlers first arrived in what would become Union County in the 1830s, one of the first priorities was building churches. An exhibit, Sacred Sites Surround Us, at the Union County Heritage Museum will open Thursday, July 20, 12 noon with guest speaker Jack Elliott, Mississippi historian. Lunch, provided by the Historic Northside Garden Club, will be served beginning at 11:30.
This exhibit will feature approximately 60 churches in Union County, both African-American and white, which were organized more than 100 years ago and are still holding services. These churches will be a part of the Hallelujah Trail, the bicentennial project of the Union County Historical Society to mark all of the centennial churches with signage, as well as creating a website and brochure.
“We are indebted to Sam Mosely and his committee of people who have worked so hard in getting information on the churches in the African-American Community. Through their efforts a collection of photographs, church organization dates, locations and other information has been collected,” said Jill Smith, Museum Director. “We are also grateful to the Mississippi Humanities Council, who is helping with funding for this project. The Union County History book has been invaluable as well, she said.
This exhibit is the continuation of collecting information, photos and objects for an archive that is used by researchers. Church records reveal a lot of information about the communities and people.
Christianity came to the state in the 1600s with the Colonial French settlers, and then the Spanish dominion followed that, with Roman Catholicism being the principal religion. Research shows that the first churches in the area began meeting almost 180 years ago. Some claim to be even older, however, documented church records see the formal organizations beginning about 1838. With the state celebrating its 200th birthday, and the Treaty of Pontotoc ceding the area of North Mississippi from the Chickasaws to the United States, the churches were shortly following this event.
Church records show that Liberty Baptist Church was founded in 1838 and, following that, Salem Methodist Church was founded in 1840. Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church organized in 1842. Bethesda Presbyterian Church was organized in 1843, as was First Baptist Church in New Albany. Other communities soon followed, and soon The Great Revival had spread throughout what was to become Union County.
All people worshipped together before the Civil War. After the freeing of the African-Americans, they began to organize their churches, with the first one being Red Hill Missionary Baptist Church in 1863. Others followed with county line churches such as Antioch M.B. Church in 1844 and Cherry Creek M.B. Church in 1867. Many of the African-American Churches in the county today were formed in the 1870s and 1880s, and they also served as schools for the community.
What began in brush arbors and log cabins while the area was still forest and river, has evolved into established community churches, which have served for more than a hundred years.
“What we hope to accomplish with the Hallelujah Trail project – the exhibit, the signage for these churches is to show in a tangible way the strength of the people to establish these churches and the long-term commitment to keeping them alive. We hope that as travelers come through the community they will be welcomed to participate in regular services and enjoy the churches’ hospitality.”
This project is supported in part by the Mississippi Humanities Council.
If any churches have not shared their history with the museum archive, there is still time to do so. Call the museum at 662-538-0014. Photos and church minutes can be scanned and copied.