Church to memorialize forgotten stories of slaves at festival
South Carolina’s first marker with any mention of the Ku Klux Klan will be unveiled Sunday at Allison Creek Presbyterian Church near Lake Wylie.
The 3-foot-by-2-foot cast aluminum metal marker will memorialize emancipated Elias Hill on one side and the former Clay Hill community on the other.
Hill and 156 other emancipated slaves left for Liberia after being terrorized by the KKK – beaten and lynched – during the Reconstruction Era in the South, following the Civil War, said York County historian Michael Scoggins.
“It’s the only state historical marker we know of referencing the Klan. It’s significant because it’s the first reference to what was happening here during the Reconstruction, and basically puts it in the public domain,” Scoggins said. “It’s a difficult subject to talk about here. We made a commitment to tell the story as accurately and factually as we can. People need to understand what happened here, and that we’re still dealing with ramifications.”
The church, just off S.C. 274, is holding a community weekend festival through Sunday called "Let the Land Say ... Amen,” honoring the history of the Clay Hill community, which grew up around Hill’s iron works and plantation.
It’s also the anniversary of the “horrific rampage of the KKK,” said Patrice Gaines, project director of the event. The marker will be unveiled at the end of the 10 a.m. outdoor Sunday worship service.
“I think this is an opportunity to show where people took responsibility of history that could be considered ugly, shameful and all that goes with it, but treat it with respect,” Gaines said. “It’s an example of the type of history we don’t like to talk about, but I think it strengthens all of us to acknowledge the truth. To learn from it, and move on from it.”
Gaines said when she joined the church a year ago, she wasn’t aware of the history. She’s been impressed by how well the congregation has preserved that history, including researching the people buried there.
“So many people don’t know what was here,” she said. “We all step into this history whether we know it or not. I’m a black woman in a predominantly white church. I didn’t know I’d find this. Sometimes history is where we don’t expect it.”
On Saturday, costumed interpreters gave guided tours of the church and its historic cemeteries – one for the plantation owner’s family and descendants and white church members; and the other for the slaves and freed blacks, including Hill’s mother, Dorcas.
A short film about the history of the church, which was built in 1854 by slaves, and church members’ visit to Liberia also was shown Saturday.
Gaines was among congregation members who went to Liberia in March, meeting ancestors of those buried or who emigrated from York County.
“It’s a reminder we are linked in so many ways to people we don’t know,” she said.
Gaines said Hill contracted malaria three months after forming an American plantation colony in Liberia. They didn’t find Hill’s grave during the Liberian trip.
“Our plan in the future is to put a gravestone there,” she said.
Catherine Muccigrosso: 803-329-4069
Want to go?
Where: 5780 Allison Creek Road, York, S.C.
When: 10 a.m. Sunday.