Friday, December 04, 2015

Black Baptist church planters in Laurens County, SC

Brush arbor similar to those used in planting churches
Our series on Laurens County, SC, during Reconstruction explores the work of Rev. June Kennedy and other emerging leaders among black Baptists.

            Freed slave June Kennedy was a remarkable and important figure in the history of black Baptist churches in Laurens County. Personal information is not available, but Kennedy’s name is connected with the formation of many early Baptist churches. What we do know is that even though Kennedy was unable to read, he went regularly to sympathetic white believers who provided the Biblical teaching to help him organize and lead many new churches of freed slaves across Laurens County.[1]
            Another former slave named Thomas Hood was well known for his singing, and June Kennedy for his itinerant preaching. Martin C. Cunningham meanwhile started prayer meetings at his home near Clinton, and the numbers grew.
While working together at T.B. Baggett's Mill, six miles west of Clinton, Kennedy and Hood wondered if, owing to the large prayer meetings conducted by Cunningham, a church could not be organized in the community. Interest was high even among the non‑religious, and the black members of Beaverdam and Huntsville (later First) Baptist churches were dismissed to form their own church.
Wade Perrin

              "Wade Perrin[2] [had] preached the first sermon [in that area] under a brush arbor in Mr. S.M. Bailey's woods. His intention was to plant there an A.M.E. church, but the Baptists were too strong." New China Baptist Church was the result, and June Kennedy was the visionary. Kennedy was the first pastor until 1877, and the charter members were George Hooker, George Nelson, Mary Blakeley, Letia A. Cunningham, Martin C. Cunningham, George and Silvia Davis, and Emma Hooker. The membership would reach 350 by 1900.[3] Hebron Baptist in Clinton was organized in 1883 with fourteen members sent from New China. They first met at Clinton Presbyterian until the whites helped build their church.
In 1871, Rev. Morton held prayer meetings at his home and a service once a month in the Gray Court area. On August 5, 1873, Center Rabon Baptist Church[4] was organized, and the sermon preached by C.P. Arnold was ironically titled, "And the Door Was Shut." "Brother M.E. Mahaffey, a white friend, served as clerk for several months because none of the blacks were able to write."
            In 1869, Hopewell Baptist Church[5] came out of New Prospect Baptist Church (white) near Maddens Station south of Laurens. It was led by F. Morris and started at Simpson's Mills, three‑quarters of a mile below Hamilton's Old Field. The first pastor, however, was Dan Burnside, and one of the deacons was
Henry (Harry) McDaniel
Harry McDaniel, state legislator from Laurens 1868-1872. Rocky Spring Baptist Church
[6] was established in 1871 with twelve black members also from white New Prospect Baptist as June Kennedy preached under a brush arbor.
White Plain Baptist Church[7] was formed in 1872 with eleven members, five miles southwest of the courthouse near the railroad in the Lisbon community, and Christian Hope Baptist Church[8] was organized the same year by June Kennedy. Flat Roof (later Flat Ruff) Baptist Church,[9] two miles northeast of Barksdale, began in 1872 with Joseph H. Sanders as the first pastor. Good Hope Baptist Church[10] was built in 1872 near Puckett's Ferry under Wallace Evans, and burned in 1887. "The faithful brethren prayed and labored hard in order to get this church on foot."
June Kennedy continued his whirlwind church planting in 1873, six miles from the courthouse toward Boyd's Mill on the Reedy River. He preached under a brush arbor on Robert H. Hudgen's land, and organized Mount Zion Baptist Church[11] with six members from Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church. Mount Zion grew about 50 members a year to 300 members.
Little River Zion Church[12] near the Newberry County line in the Belfast community was organized in 1876 from members sent out from Bush River Missionary Baptist Church[13] (black) who had themselves come out of Bush River Baptist Church (white) after 1865. Little River Zion Church was planted by, again, by the remarkable Rev. June Kennedy because of the far distance of walking to the black Bush River church in Newberry County. Rev. B.F. Lively was the first pastor.[14] Former slave Maria Cleland, born a slave of John Satterwhite near old Bush River Baptist Church just across the line in Newberry County, SC, attested years later at age 80 in May 1937: "Before de Negroes had their own church meetings, the slaves went to the white folks' Bush River Baptist Church and set up in the gallery. Negroes most always shouted at their religious meetings."[15]
            This mushrooming of churches across Laurens County led a number of black leaders in 1879 to the formation of the Tumbling Shoals Baptist Educational Association where Thomas Jones taught in a log schoolhouse. The association was founded by Homer Hill, Calvin Pitts, Haywood Donaldson, Martin A. Cunningham, all ministers, and deacons John Finley, Priest Miller, and others.[16] New Prospect Baptist Church (black), planted by June Kennedy and Robert Holmes, was the head church of the Association, one‑ half mile from Tumbling Shoals. "These sketches are being recorded in the absence of many records and are subject to some inaccuracies."[17]


[1]              “History of Little River Zion Baptist Church,” http://www.lrzbc.com/index.php/our-history, Accessed Nov. 5, 2015.
[2]           The same Wade Perrin assassinated at Martin’s Depot (Joanna) the day after he was elected to the SC General Assembly during the Laurens Riots of 1870.
[3]           O.W.C. Lawson, "Church Built near Baggett's Mill," Laurens Advertiser, June 10, 1970.
[4]           14155 Highway 101 S, Gray Court, SC 29645
[5]           6526 Neely Ferry Rd, Laurens, SC 29360
[6]           34.445948, -82.043127
[7]           1823 Lisbon Rd., Mountville, SC 29370
[8]           13186 Indian Mound Rd., Ware Shoals, SC 29692
[9]           640 Flat Ruff Church Rd., Laurens, SC 29360. 34.578694, -82.052697
[10]          16698 S Carolina 72, Cross Hill, SC 29332. 34.287963, -82.043945
[11]          2391 S Carolina 252, Laurens, SC 29360. 34.493435, -82.110418
[12]          9012 South Carolina 56, Kinards, SC 29355
[13]          Bush River Baptist Church was formed c. 1772 as a Separate Baptist congregation connected directly to Shubal Stearns and the Sandy Creek (NC) Baptist Association.
[14]          “History of Little River Zion Baptist Church,” http://www.lrzbc.com/index.php/our-history, Accessed Nov. 5, 2015.
[15]          Maria Cleland (age 80), in Slave Narratives, (I, i, 204), May 17, 1937, edited by Elmer Turnage. "I was born near old Bush River Baptist Church, in Newberry County, S.C. I was the slave of John Satterwhite. My mother lived with them. I was a small girl when the war was on. My brother went to war with Marse Satterwhite. When de Ku Klux and paddrollers traveled around in that section, they made Mr. Satterwhite hold the niggers when they was whipped, but he most all the time let them loose, exclaiming, 'they got loose'‑‑he did not want many of them whipped. People there did not believe much in ghosts. They were not much superstitious, but one time some of the negroes thought they heard the benches in Bush River Baptist Church turn over when nobody was in the church. I moved to Newberry when I was young, after I got married."
[16]          Mary Whitener, "Contributions by Negroes," Laurens Advertiser, June 10, 1970.
[17]          Scrapbook, 496‑499.